Bragi Olafsson

BRAGI OLAFSSON

October 6, 2008

Bragi Ólafsson was born in Reykjavik, and is most well known for playing in Björk's first band, The Sugarcubes. He is the author of several books of poetry and short stories, and four novels, including Time Off, which was nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize in 1999 (as was his novel The Pets), and Party Games, for which Bragi received the DV Cultural Prize in 2004. His most recent novel-The Ambassador-was a finalist for the 2008 Nordic Literature Prize and received the Icelandic Bookseller's Award as best novel of the year. Bragi is also one of the founders of the publishing company Smekkleysa (Bad Taste), and has translated Paul Auster's City of Glass into Icelandic.

Introduction

We are truly fortunate to have novelist and musician, Bragi Olafsson, visiting us in Buffalo this evening. We’re his first stop on an extended book tour: he just arrived from Iceland last night.

Bragi Ólafsson was born in Reykjavik. He is the author of several books of poetry and short stories, and four novels, including Time Off, which was nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize in 1999 (as was The Pets), and Party Games, for which Ólafsson received the DV Cultural Prize in 2004. His most recent novel—The Ambassador—was a finalist for the 2008 Nordic Literature Prize and received the Icelandic Bookseller's Award as best novel of the year. Ólafsson is also one of the founders of the publishing company Smekkleysa (Bad Taste), and has translated Paul Auster's City of Glass into Icelandic. Many of you are also aware that, in addition to his literary endeavors, Bragi was once the bassist for The Sugarcubes. We’re here to celebrate Bragi’s visit, his fiction, and also the new translation of his novel, The Pets, published by Open Letter Books and translated by Janice Balfour.

Reading Olafsson’s The Pets for the first time, you at once realize that you’re in the presence of a writer who can conduct many instruments at the same time, a high-wire act that leaves you breathless as you witness a gathering of strangers, with much the same consternation and with the same rapidly beating heart as the narrator who, we discover, is hiding—breathlessly, not unlike us—under his bed. He is watching and waiting, listening and speculating, as whole host of events take place around him, as much as in his imagination. The Pets keeps the reader busy as it demands at least three points of attention: one focuses on the happening at the impromptu party in a house; the second takes place in the past and investigates the motives that have brought everyone to the party; the third point of focus is on the novel as a whole as it drifts and swells with tension, and becomes a metaphor for what happens when you are otherwise hiding under a bed. In other words, the world goes on without you, and you realize—alas—that it doesn’t really need you at all.

Olafsson is a master of contrast: from the high Nietzschean discourse on commercial culture delivered by the passenger next to him on a flight (a man who believes that errors are the strongest ideas), to the sarcastic spoken narration of an antagonist that is right out of a Dick-and-Jane primer, a mocking narration of comic effect arises that lends both superficiality and truth to the story as a whole. The Pets, in the end, is a hilarious and poignant book, a gift of both wry laughter and sadness.

Please welcome Bragi Ólafsson tonight.

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