The image of Iceland in UK fiction

Daisy Neijmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Iceland in post-war UK fiction has tended to be constructed as a hostile, crime-ridden place, with the Icelandic landscape, particularly its uninhabited interior, being used as the site for ambushes, fights, wild chases, cliff hangers, rapes, and killings.This article examine the nature and function of this fictional Iceland, and its relation to more general ideas of North, in three novels, in order to find out whether we can distinguish a particular discursive formula that constructs Iceland as part of the 'North* in UK fiction.The British novels under discussion are Running Blind, by Desmond Bagley,first published in 1970 (dramatised by the BBC in l979);Men atAxlir, by Dominic Cooper, first published in 1978; and The Killer's Guide to Iceland, by Zane Radcliffe, published in 2005. The article first establishes that the textual Iceland of UK literature has its roots both in Old Icelandic literature as read, interpreted and re-created in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain, and its ideas of North as expressed in popular genre fiction, while both relied on English-language travel accounts of Iceland. Close readings of each novel are then offered from a post-colonial critical perspective. The discussion compares the novels' respective construction of the Icelandic landscape as an exotic, liminal locus of drama, violence and climatic extremes; the reappropriation of Icelandic language and history for the British cultural and literary tradition; the play of gender norms, particularly the relation woman-nature; the construction of otherness and foreignness; and, in the case of Radcliffe's novel, the text's metafictive commentary on its own inability to represent Iceland objectively. Ultimately, the literary Iceland that emerges from these novels is, it seems, firmly locked into an established system of discourse as a kind of private northern wilderness for a metropolitan audience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-58
Number of pages34
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Other keywords

  • Crime fiction
  • Gender
  • Iceland in uk fiction
  • Landscape
  • Post-colonialism


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