Butterflies in November, by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (translated by Brian FitzGibbon) Originally published 2004 Contemporary, Literary, Travel Setting: Iceland [CWs: animal death]
This delightful road-trip novel is many things; charming, whimsical, touching, quirky, funny, adventurous, light-hearted, confusing, and possibly divisive.
The book follows a nameless female protagonist, a polyglot and translator by occupation, as she deals with getting dumped by two different men, setting off events which lead to her winning the lottery and taking a journey around Iceland with her best friend's four year old deaf son. The author adopts short, sharp chapters that jump suddenly ahead in time, interspersed with sudden flashbacks to the narrator's early life and snippets of the random conversations of strangers; it feels erratic just like our narrator, who is criticised by her husband as being too unpredictable as he leaves her for a more stable relationship.
A visit to a psychic towards the beginning of the story foretells many of the events that happen along the way, including romantic encounters, unfortunate accidents, and the death of animals. As our narrator recounts events, little breadcrumbs of information throughout seem to form patterns linked to both her past and the psychic's prediction. Meetings that appear serendipitous on the surface seem to be influenced by fate and the ripples of the butterfly effect.
I found myself sucked into trying to piece together all of evidence and make sense of the meandering plot and more mysterious aspects of the narrator's past. However, many of the little events that appear to tie in end up appearing insignificant, as though the novel is playfully teasing with red herrings. Self-determination is a central theme in the narrator's journey, and perhaps reading too much into every little thing reinforces how expecting a certain fate can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We are not given any concrete answers, and there is no big reveal of what it all meant, though we can guess at how the narrator's childhood experiences have shaped her as an adult. But as with a good road trip, it's all about the journey, not the destination. However, if you don't like vague or unresolved plots, this one is probably not for you!