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'The Lost Musicians' William Heinesen

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The Faeroese writer, musician and painter William Heinesen, wrote this novel in 1950. The novel tells the story of three brothers who live on the Faeroe Islands. All three are musicians, who use their musical talents to offset the various setbacks in their everyday lives.


Their story is played out against the backdrop of the war of words between the sectarians, who want alcohol banned and the rest of the populace. This war of words has consequences for each brother.


The novel has a fair number of colourful characters. The brothers themselves are to varying degrees daft. The leader of the sectarians is a bigoted, buffoon. The supporting characters are a motley bunch of ne'er do wells and well intentioned souls.


The book is divided into four parts, each labeled as a movement by the author. The first part is the easiest to engage with, containing some magical moments, chapter 3 in particular. The story really starts in Part 2, which is amusing in places. Part 3 is the heart of the war of words. This is heavy going, the themes being rather heavily handed. Part 4 describes the fate of each brother. The son of one leaves the island as well.


The version I read was translated by W. Glyn-Jones. Based on the 'taster' given on the publisher's website I was going to say this is an excellent translation. Having read the book, I've modified my view. He does capture the author's deft use of language, but in places is over precise. Whilst the prose does flow, there is a forced feel to it. Add to that a couple of oddly constructed sentences and continuity errors leads me to conclude it is a good translation.


Overall the heavy handed treatment of many of the themes, the contrived plot and rather sombre feel reduced my enjoyment of this novel.

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