Book Review: Christmas is Coming by Jóhannes úr Kötlum (Trans by Hallberg Hallmundsson)

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Something festive this way comes: classic collection of verse reintroduced figures from Icelandic folklore.

In the early 1930s Icelandic literature was undergoing a golden age. Having gained independence in 1918 the country was experiencing an emboldened sense of self identity which was expressed throughout the arts. An age of introspection and exploration that saw the country’s writers and artists reinterpret Icelandic heritage from a nationalistic perspective.

Possibly influenced by adult literature’s coming of age, children’s fiction began to exhibit greater sophistication and spoke to a nation that although primarily dependent upon agriculture and fisheries for its sustainability was taking tentative steps towards urbanisation and consumerism.

Into this age of transition Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s seminal seasonal text Christmas is Coming was published. First issued in 1932 the text reintroduced Icelandic society to figures from pre-Christian Nordic Yuletide folklore albeit in a slightly sanitised form more palatable to early twentieth century readers.

An alternative to Father Christmas, according to Icelandic folklore children’s homes are visited by elves over a number of nights leading up to the Yuletide festival. Until the publication of Christmas is Coming the precise number of elves and individual characteristics varied regionally. Malign and occasionally murderous figures traditionally used to scare children into behaving were transformed by Jóhannes úr Kötlum into mischievous elves. Fixing the number of Yule Lads at thirteen each was given a distinct personality.

In modern Icelandic society children are told that Yule Lads will visit homes leaving gifts or rotting potatoes depending on their behaviour. Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s verse was written at a time when agriculture was the dominant industry and in his poem the elves play a series of pranks upon farmers homes.

This seasonal bestseller remains in print and is now available in English. The collection also includes The Ballad of Grýla the tale of an ogre who feasts on badly behaved children and The Christmas Cat a dark account of a terrifying feline who prowls around Iceland looking for children wearing old clothes because she is unable to eat infants that are wearing new garments.

Providing an invaluable glimpse at the birth of modern Icelandic festive traditions, Christmas is Coming is a macabre and impish collection.

Christmas is Coming is available to order from Amazon.

Book Review: The Last Days of Disco by David Ross

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The 1980s is vividly recreated in a comedic and poignant novel by first time author David Ross.

A coming of age story set in recession hit Scotland. An entire generation’s fragile hopes and dreams is perilously close to being crushed by mass unemployment and the Falklands War. More than a nostalgic look back at the decade taste forgot, The Last Days of Disco is a warm and witty account of youthful exuberance and the irrepressible urge to forge a new and better life in a town with limited prospects for self improvement.

Fat Franny Francis is undisputed king of Kimnarnock’s mobile disco scene. Unchallenged champion of the turntables, he reigns supreme in the local dancehalls, and is the person to hire for birthday parties and wedding receptions. Long-term friends Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller hatch a plan to set up their own mobile disco and challenge Fat Franny Francis’ supremacy.

Celebrating the seven inch single’s power to momentarily lift people out of the doldrums, The Last Days of Disco is a Trainspotting for the vinyl era.

The author has lived in Kilmarnock since a teenager and used his intimate knowledge of the area to craft an authentic recreation of the era that never falls prey to misty-eyed revisionism or caricature. Packed with social realism, humour, and pathos the book expertly recreates the epoch’s joys and tears.

Readers of a certain age will be transported back to their youth and once again get to relive a time when Shakin’ Stevens was the UK’s biggest selling male solo act. For those who were born after the 1980s, The Last Days of Disco captures the decade in all its harsh monochromatic glory.

Filled with characters that will make you want to laugh and cry, often in the space of a single page, Ross has written a tragi-comedic novel that might topple Trainspotting‘s crown and become Scotland’s favourite book of the last fifty years.

The Last Days of Disco can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Days-Disco-David-Ross/dp/191063302X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426763434&sr=8-1&keywords=the+last+days+of+disco