5 Icelandic Authors that Aren‘t Laxness

A man reading in a book shop corner.

It’s often said that the Icelandic nation is a nation of books. We read, write and publish a tremendous amount and have a rich history of literature going all the way back to the Icelandic Sagas of the 13th and 14th centuries. For those wanting to dig into the Icelandic literary tradition, the author you’ll be most likely to encounter in your search for books is probably Halldór Laxness. Having won the Nobel Prize, he is undoubtedly the most famous Icelandic author. He’s also well worth reading, but in case you already have, or if you just fancy something else, there are numerous other outstanding Icelandic authors you can choose from. Here are our top five recommendations.

Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir (b. 1974)

Sigríður is a well-known news anchor who had her first book published in 2016. Her debut novel, Blackout Island, was a smash hit among the Icelandic people. With a continuum of unusual plots, excellent writing and compelling character relationships, she‘s kept dazzling the nation. Her first and third novels have been translated into English. Both are outstanding representatives of modern Icelandic literature, but the third, The Fires, is perhaps the most remarkable Icelandic novel of the 21. century. It revolves around a series of volcanic eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula and was published in the fall of 2020, only a few months before the first in a series of still ongoing eruptions on the peninsula

Gunnar Gunnarsson (b. 1889, d. 1975)

A trailblazer in the context of Icelandic literature, Gunnar was the first Icelander to become a professional writer. Although he lived in Denmark for the first 30 years of his writing career and wrote his books in Danish, all of them are set in Iceland. His books were immensely popular, not only in Iceland and Denmark but across Europe, and in 1955, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature. Over the course of his career, Gunnar published nearly 50 novels, short stories, poetry books and plays. Many of them, for example Advent, The Black Cliffs and Guest the One-Eyed, are considered among Icelandic classics and are still widely read. 

Jón Kalman Stefánsson (b. 1963)

It can be said without a doubt that Jón Kalman is one of the big names in modern Icelandic literature. Writing in a non-traditional form, his poetic and enchanting novels gained international attention following the Trilogy About the Boy and have been translated into numerous languages. He has been nominated for well-known prizes, such as the Man Booker and the Nordic Council, and has twice been considered a likely recipient of the Nobel. In 2005, he won the Icelandic Prize for literature for his novel Summer Light and Then Comes the Night, which was adapted into a movie in 2021. 

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (b. 1958)

An art historian turned writer in 1998, Auður has published eight novels, five plays and a poetry book, several of which have gotten her Icelandic and international nominations and prizes. The Greenhouse, Miss Iceland, and Hotel Silence were particularly well received. Auður‘s books, which have been translated into more than 25 languages, are often centred around communication, miscommunication and intriguing questions about humanity. Her writing is unostentatious and beautiful, a true testament to simplicity and quietude.

Steinunn Sigurðardóttir (b. 1950)

Steinunn grabbed the attention of the Icelandic nation at age 19 when her first poetry book, Sífellur, was published. She has since written more than 20 novels, novellas and poetry books and has become one of Iceland‘s most beloved writers. She‘s not afraid to give space to flawed and unlikeable characters, whom she commonly uses to explore the various aspects of love, be it unrequited, difficult, dramatic, obsessive, complicated, or something in between. Amongst her most critically acclaimed books are The Thief of Time, Place of the Heart and Yoyo

Of the Great Mortality

Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir is a novelist and a journalist living in Reykjavík. Her novels have been translated into many languages, and include the dystopian thriller Island (2016), and The Fires (2020), which foreshadowed the ongoing volcanic eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula, published in English by Amazon Crossing in 2023. Her latest novel, DEUS (2023), is […]

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