Fish Have No Feet by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

Fish Have No Feet by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

What is there to say?…life is incomprehensible, it’s unfair, but we live it anyway, can’t avoid it, know no other way, life is the only certainty, that treasure, that worthless junk. After life there may be nothing. Yet it all began with death.

Shifting from past to present, the focus of the book is Keflavik, Iceland and how a place morphs you into the person you grow up to be. The main character has a major life event push him back to the place where he grew up. This brings up memories of family, and the history of his grandparents, parents, and the tough life in Keflavik. The ending is a bitter regret that comes to light and is a gut punch to me reading it.

Memories are heavy stones that I drag behind me. Is it heavy to remember? asked Ari. No, only what you regret or long to forget - regret is the heaviest stone.

Stefánsson has a lyrical, and poetic style of writing. It’s also bleak in a way. I grew up in a nothing town like Keflavik, so many of the feelings the characters had growing up were feelings I had. I was at least lucky to live near a bigger town, Vancouver. He speaks about regret a lot, and I would venture to say that it is a main theme. Regrets are bad, but the character in the book has the worst sort of regret, the regret for not doing something. It is far, far better to have regret for trying out something, and have it blow up in your face instead of wondering, what if?

After reading this book, I feel like I have spent a few years living in Keflavik, working in the fish processing plant.

You have a child and your life is divided, it just happens, into before and after, you’re forced to bid farewell to your former life, and your love is distributed, it’s no longer focused exclusively, with it’s unfathomable power, on one person.

That certainly encapsulates how I feel about having my children. My wife says I don’t love her anymore, but I tell her, I do but now my love is split between you and our 2 children as well.

I’m not so sure we seriously try to understand other people - do we really give it our full attention? Don’t we actually do the opposite, and constantly try, all our lives, to make others see the world as we see it? Isn’t that our great misfortune?

This book is a treatise on life. Other reviewers will quip that it is repetitive, but isn’t life very repetitive? Sometimes to learn, humans needs to fail, fail, and fail again. Humans are stubborn. We know something shouldn’t be done, yet we do it anyways. Why is that?

Who’s entitled to judge what is normal, isn’t there aggression in the word normal? Is ““normal”” a sturdy cage surrounding all of us, perhaps? Surrounding our lives? A cage from which we can never escape? Except perhaps when we drink.

I always like finding the part of the book that leads you to the title of the book. There must be a special term for this? Anyways, here it is!

No-one, you see, can walk on water, and that’s why fish have no feet.

Rating: ★★★★

Book #82 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

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