History. A Mess.


by Sigrún Pálsdóttir

July 23, 2019 
novel | pb | 120 pgs.
5.5" x 8.5" 


While studying a seventeenth-century diary, the protagonist of History. A Mess. uncovers information about the first documented professional female artist. This discovery promises to change her academic career, and life in general . . . until she realizes that her "discovery" was nothing more than two pages stuck together. At this point there's no going back though, and she goes to great lengths to hide her mistake—undermining her sanity in the process. A shifty, satirical novel that's funny and colorful, while also raising essential questions about truth, research, and the very nature of belief.

Translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith

About the Author:

Sigrún Pálsdóttir completed a PhD in the History of Ideas at the University Oxford in 2001, after which she was a research fellow and lecturer at the University of Iceland. She worked as the editor of Saga, the principal peer-reviewed journal for Icelandic history, from 2008 to 2016. Her previous titles include the historical biography Thora. A Bishop’s Daughter and Uncertain Seas, a story of a young couple and their three children who were killed when sailing from New York to Iceland aboard a ship torpedoed by a German submarine in 1944. Sigrún’s work has been nominated for the Icelandic Literary Prize, Icelandic Women’s Literature Prize, Hagþenkir Non-fiction Prize, and the DV Culture Prize. Uncertain Seas was chosen the best biography in 2013 by booksellers in Iceland.

About the Translator:

Lytton Smith is a poet, professor, and translator from the Icelandic. His most recent translations include works by Kristín Ómarsdóttir, Jón Gnarr, Ófeigur Sigurðsson, Bragi Ólafsson, and Guðbergur Bergsson. His most recent poetry collection, The All-Purpose Magical Tent, was published by Nightboat. Having earned his MFA and PhD from Columbia University, he currently teaches at SUNY Geneseo.


Praise for History. A Mess.:

"Absolutely brilliant from beginning to end."—Halla Oddný Magnúsdóttir, National TV

"An amazing story . . . A very memorable reading experience, and in spite of a serious undertone there's a very finely tuned quiet humour."—Júlía M. Alexandersdóttir, Morgunbladid

"A complex and arresting novel where a super precise style and an ingenious construction come together."—Nomination Committee for the Women’s Literature Prize

"Like a cubist work of art."—Jóhanna María Einarsdóttir, DV

"As her state of mind becomes increasingly fraught, Lytton Smith’s adept translation skillfully conveys [the narrator’s] neurotic, internal experience, which often expresses possibilities, thoughts, speculation, and interpretations instead of an external reality." —Callum McAllister, Asymptote Journal

"History. A Mess. . . . is at once a disturbing but riveting portrait of a glassy psyche and an enlightening critique of the constraints and pressures of modern scholarship." —Bailey Trela, Ploughshares

"Fans of the nouveau roman—Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, etc.—will be right at home here." – Kirkus Reviews

"Pálsdóttir writes with the hand of a mystery author and the mind of a postmodernist, teasing out her protagonist’s problem while playing with literary forms, fragmenting timelines, and injecting fierce irony." –Publishers Weekly 

"Its ambition is met with resounding success every step of the way." —Will Harris, Books and Bao

"What I admire most about Pálsdóttir’s writing is her ability to hide a strictly structured course of events under a gliding, occasionally deliberately (but not distractingly) chaotic style; her ability to orchestrate the random; to construct a perspective for the narrator that, most of the time, reveals both everything and nothing about what is actually going on; and the way she covers real tensions and worries with a quilt of details, as they are so often covered in life." —Rein Raud, European Literature Network