Illusory Flowers in an Empty Sky

iceland

by Barry Graham

I first read this novel two years ago, and thought it one of the best I'd read in the last decade. Last year, I went to Reykjavik, where it's set, to get married, and it turned out to be my favourite city I've ever visited. That love of Iceland, and the awfulness of COVID-19, made me decide to reread it recently, and I liked it even better the second time.

It's set in 1918, during the Spanish flu pandemic. The protagonist is an orphaned teenage boy who lives with an elderly relative, sells sex to local men and visiting sailors, and has two obsessions: cinema, and a local girl. Then the virus arrives and spreads through the cinema crowds.

This is a short novel that tells a huge story of loneliness, class, secrets, love and friendship. It's grim and beautiful, and a book for the present time.

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