The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning – Hallgrímur Helgason


“God is like alcohol, I guess. The deeper you dive into it, the more you wonder if it was such a good idea in the first place. The more religious your country is, the more likely it is to see war. At least God never showed his face in Iceland. Olie tells me it wasn’t even created by him. No wonder it’s the most peaceful country in the world.”

When I was at the Iceland Writers Retreat, they had a table of Icelandic books on the last day from which we were to select a free book to take home.  Because I don’t pay attention, many people ended up taking more than one book and I’m sad I did not also, but the one I did grab was the one with the most intriguing name – Hallgrimur Helgason’s The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning.

The narrator, Toxic, is vulgar, sexist, and generally unlikeable.  He’s a Croatian hitman fleeing the US due to an assassination gone wrong.  While running away from the FBI at the airport, he ends up killing the fictional equivalent of a Westboro Baptist Church pastor, stealing his passport, and jets off to Iceland on “Father Friendly’s” boarding pass.  Of course, he gets into all kinds of antics adjusting to the Icelandic culture, people, and language, which were the parts I enjoyed most of all having been there twice and feeling painfully nostalgic for Reykjavik.

It’s a dark comedy very similar to the film In Bruges – a human garbage protagonist who has to adjust to new surroundings and does so quite humorously.  There’s nothing remotely intellectual about it, but it’s humorous  and entertaining nonetheless.  If you’ve been to Iceland/are Icelandic, you’ll find especially humorous the way he renames/refers to Icelandic names – a popular pub I’ve visited, Kaffibarinn, becomes “Cafe Bahrain”, the Garðabær neighbourhood becomes “Guard The Beer”, and a character, Sigríður, becomes “Sick Reader”.  Perhaps I would enjoy these cultural snippets more than someone who hasn’t been to Iceland or struggled with some of these impossible names. But it’s a playful approach to rhyme, description, and parody, which I think anyone could appreciate.

Books read: 5


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