Home > 2000, 21st Century, Ólafsdóttir Auđur Ava, Icelandic Literature, Novel > Rosa Candida by Auđur Ava Ólafsdóttir – not totally convincing

Rosa Candida by Auđur Ava Ólafsdóttir – not totally convincing

Rosa Candida by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (2007) French title: Rosa Candida. Translated by Catherine Eyjólfisson

I received Rosa Candida by the Icelandic writer Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir through my Kube subscription and I’m not sure I would have bought it myself.

Arnljótur Thórir, “Lobbi” is twenty-two and lost his mother Anna in a car accident. He lives with his ageing father and has a twin autistic brother. The three men try to survive Anna’s death, each in their own way. The father, who was much older than his wife, tries to cook his wife’s recipes. Lobby was close to his mother and loved working with her in their greenhouse. They grew roses, especially an eight-petal one, Rosa candida. Lobbi worked a few months as a fisherman to fund his dream: he wants to go abroad and restore the famous rose garden of a monastery.

Lobbi leaves his father and brother behind, but also his daughter Flóra Sól. She’s seven-month-old and lives with her mother Anna. Lobbi and her had a tryst in the greenhouse and accidentally conceived their daughter. Anna is still a student. She and Lobbi barely saw each other during her pregnancy and after the baby’s birth. He doesn’t feel an attachment to his daughter and yet carries her photo and talks about her to strangers. He knows he ought to feel something more about his daughter.

After an initiatic journey, Lobbi arrives at the monastery and is welcomed by Father Thomas, monk and film buff extraordinaire. Lobbi came with three cuttings of rosa candida, to add them to the monastery’s garden.

Lobbi starts working at the garden, finds a new routine in the village and spends evenings watching films with Father Thomas. He’s content with his life when he receives a letter from Anna, telling him she needs time to write her dissertation and that she wants him to take care of Flóra Sól for a few weeks. Lobbi accepts and plans for their arrival.

The whole book is about growing and blooming, as a plant and as a person.

There’s an underlying comparison between the garden’s restoration and Lobbi’s growing-up. He opens out as a man, as a gardener and as a father. He needed to leave Iceland to become an adult and grieve his mother. Her rosa candida, and thus part of herself, will survive in the garden of the monastery. Flóra Sól, with her flower name, her age is the personification of blooming. The monks grow fond of the roses and start going out of the library to enjoy the garden.

Rosa Candida is told with Lobbi’s candid voice and there are beautiful passages about fatherhood and how he builds a connection with his daughter. It is a coming-of-age novel with Lobbi learning to live on his own, thinking about life, death, sex and his place in the world.

The book is built with a certain timelessness and “placelesness”. There are no cell phones but they watch videotapes. Lobbi still goes to the phone booth. The village is set in a non-described country with a language only spoken locally. It sounds a lot like a remote village in Italy, but who knows.

Rosa Candida is well-written and poetic, with a slow pace to match the speed of plants growing and the time Lobbi needed to mature and figure things out.

I feel like I should have loved this book but I just can’t. Lobbi grew on me but the whole setting felt artificial to me. The coincidences of the names –two Annas in Lobbi’s life, his mother and the mother of his child–, Flóra Sól, a baby with a flower name whose birthday is the day (but not the year) when Lobbi’s mother died. The way the story is set up in an undefined time and place, to build a feeling of universality. Well, it didn’t quite work for me.

I think that the best novelists don’t need artificial devices in their books to reach universality. They tell stories set in their time in such a way that centuries later, people still connect with them. Think of Jane Austen or Balzac. Great novelists stories set in their country and readers abroad feel close to the characters.

Lobbi’s story is about grieving and growing as a father but if you want to read a beautiful book about grief and fatherhood, rush for A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do by Pete Fromm, a book that touched me a lot deeper than Rosa Candida.

PS: I usually don’t participate to Women In Translation Month hosted by Meytal ,mostly because I don’t read English translation of books and I live in a country where reading in translation is not an issue. However, Rosa Candida qualifies for it, so I’ll add my stone to the WIT edifice.

  1. August 7, 2021 at 11:41 am

    Brave of the younger Anna to say to Lobbi hey I want you to care for my child that you have taken no interest in.

    Because the one book from Iceland that I have read was by Lilja Sigurdardottir, I looked up the meaning of ‘dottir’ and prosically enough it’s daughter – I wonder if all Icelandic women are someone’s daughter.

    Like

    • August 7, 2021 at 1:08 pm

      Icelandic names are interesting, they don’t have family names as such. The person’s first name is the name of their father. If the person is female they add “dottir” (daughter) to the end; if they’re male they add “son” (son). I learnt this when I went to Iceland on holiday 20 years ago and tried to look up Bjork (!!) in the phone book!

      Liked by 2 people

      • August 8, 2021 at 7:17 am

        Thanks for this explanation, it’s useful.

        Like

    • August 8, 2021 at 7:16 am

      The story between Anna and Lobbi is a little more complex than Lobbi turning his back to her but I don’t want to say too much.

      Like

  2. August 7, 2021 at 1:09 pm

    I’m not sure I’d get on with this book either; I like my tales to be fairly specific. This sounds a bit fable-like.

    Like

    • August 8, 2021 at 7:19 am

      “Fable-like”, that’s it. I was looking for the right term.
      I understand why readers love Rosa Candida but I don’t respond to it as well as others.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. August 7, 2021 at 5:30 pm

    This sounds like an interesting novel, albeit one with problems. I have another, different novel by Audur Ólafsdóttir (Miss Iceland). Although I gave up fairly quickly on it, this may have been due to bad timing, so I intend to try her writing again. Interestingly, Miss Iceland also involves the necessity of going abroad to find fulfillment; a substantial difference from Rosa, however, is that Miss Iceland’s female protagonist is a would-be writer contending against the very patriarchal society of Iceland in the 1960s.

    Like

    • August 8, 2021 at 7:24 am

      I checked out Miss Iceland: it won Le Prix Médicis étranger in France in 2019, which is a prestigious prize for translated literature.
      Hmm.
      I think Rosa Candida is a good book, just not for me.

      According to the comments, nobody in my bloggosphere has read it. Too bad, I would have liked to hear another point of view.

      Like

  4. August 7, 2021 at 5:31 pm

    Um, yes – I don’t know that I would warm to this one either – I would like it to have been firmly in its place and time!

    Like

    • August 8, 2021 at 7:30 am

      Now that I think of it, I feel like the author wants to teach the reader something through a fable and I’m a bit resistant to that kind of books unless it’s a political satire.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. August 8, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    Funnily enough, just yesterday I saw an interview with two comedy writers who discussed the issue you mention here. They’d written three very successful award-winning series about where they grew up and living in a small town, and they said they were surprised it had been so popular because it was very specific to their experience. Then they’d realised that actually the more specific you go, the more it resonates with people, and if you try to be universal it doesn’t speak to anyone. It sounds like this would support that theory, although there’s a lot that sounds interesting too.

    Like

    • August 10, 2021 at 4:33 pm

      I suppose that the personnal experience of the characters make them realistic and we can relate. When it’s too vague or too fable-like, we don’t see ourselves in the characters. Not really.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. buriedinprint
    August 9, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    I’ve read one of her books which I really enjoyed. At first it seemed like it was going to be a rather predictable story and a little light, but, as I kept reading, I felt like there was a dark seam running beneath (addressing, among other things, the way that an adult tending to a child has a mix of emotions, not all suitable for greeting cards effusions) and I ended up really liking it for that complexity, far more than I’d have guessed. But…I haven’t gone on to read another. Just time, not deliberate.

    Like

    • August 10, 2021 at 4:41 pm

      There’s something like this in Rosa Candida too. Lobbi has a hard time seeing himself as a father, not because he’s a bad person but because he’s not in a relationship with Anna. Her pregnancy remained something remote.
      And Anna, she was not ready to be a mother and struggles too.
      Which one did you read?

      Like

  1. September 4, 2021 at 9:55 am

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