Some of our members attended this interesting session about The Ash Burner at Avid Reader Bookshop.
Summary by Alexa
In this bookshop’s lush back garden, Kari Gislason tells us how Icelanders swim every day and they look to the sea as a way of taking them back to where they had once come from long ago. Gislason sees the swimming motion as reconnecting with the past, being in the present, and reaching out to the future. This is why Ted in The Ash Burner looks in the water for something that has happened in his past that he doesn’t understand.
Gislason refers to himself as a “young fogey”, a serious and sentimental reader who loves reading works up to the Second World War. Yet he realises that it’s dodgy to hark back to past eras and doesn’t trust his sentimentality. He loves Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh and has read all of D.H. Lawrence’s works (which he wouldn’t recommend anyone should do). For this reason, Gislason’s characters are old-fashioned and a bit dislocated due to their interest in art, music and literature. In small country towns as the one in his novel, such people are glad to meet others with similar interests.
Gislason also relies on his favourite Icelandic Saga of Egill for the structure of The Ash Burner, and he retells the tale beautifully. This saga has influenced Ted’s use of writing in order to reflect on past experiences. Gislason was also inspired by a photo he had taken of his grandfather’s plaque on his burial site, with himself reflected taking the photo, and his son running past in the background, which represented three generations in the one shot. Likewise, Gislason uses the triangle of relationships, such as Ted, Claire and Anthony, where each side is dependent on the other.
Once his book has been published, Gislason likes to give up control over it as it then belongs to the reader, and he really enjoys hearing how people interpret his work.