Argantael (16) has decided to rip her life apart. She starts with her diary – tearing out the pages and throwing them into the sea. She then rows her boyfriend’s boat so far out to sea that she’s sure she won’t be able to get back to dry land again once she lets go of the oars. All the while, she is recalling episodes from her life, and we gain insight into a difficult childhood marred by emotional poverty. The book addresses evergreen adolescent issues: relationships with parents, friendships, dreams, unconditional love of various types and strong emotions. In Argantael’s world, we witness the consequences of mental health issues and neglect, and share in her jealousy and grief. We follow her hesitant attempts to find her place in life and to reconcile herself not only with her sexuality, but also with her identity in general.
Despite the fact that it covers serious issues and proposes no easy solutions, Hon, sum róði eftir ælaboganum(“She Who Rowed after the Rainbow”, not translated into English) is written with a playful ease and an energetic narrative momentum that makes it fascinating and entertaining. Musical and dance rhythms are recurring motifs in the book, and accompany the girl all the way as she rows rhythmically towards death. Even though death looms like an overwhelming shadow throughout, the pages brim with a sparkling vitality and an irrepressible will to live, and the possibility of ultimately overcoming our problems is just as ever-present.
Rich imagery and intertextual references make for an ambiguous text comprising many diverse elements. Its depth and myriad potential interpretations make it a challenging and engaging read.
We are put in the 16-year-old girl’s shoes and we want to fight alongside her, to row for her life – which the book quietly convinces us is invaluable, despite the hardships we endure and the challenges we face along the way.
Rachel Helmsdal is a prolific writer who has published a large number of books for children of all ages, as well as plays and short stories for adults. This is her first novel for young adults. The story of Argantael takes place in the same fictional town, Port Janua, as several of her other works.