The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, begins as 20-something Lobbi decides to forego college, leave his family, and pursue his passion for gardening and landscaping. He travels to a remote corner of the world to restore a once renowned rose garden in an aging monastery.
He passes his time tending the garden while reflecting on his life and the recent death of his mother. Soon an unexpected visitor arrives—Anna, a former one-night stand—and she is holding an infant. The child is Lobbi’s daughter. Anna asks him to care for the child so she can finish her graduate work. So begins The Greenhouse an elegant story about finding beauty, meaning and purpose in life.
Amazon recently caught up with author Audur Ava Olafsdottir for a brief interview.
Amazon.com: Are you a gardener yourself, or are the references to growth and cultivation in The Greenhouse intended as a metaphor for the protagonist’s own growth and self-realization?
Audur Ava Olafsdottir (pictured on left): I would like to be a gardener like my protagonist, Lobbi--"silent in the soil," so to speak. But really, I am just an author using my imagination as a tool. While I was writing The Greenhouse, my own garden in Reykjavik was neglected.
Amazon.com: What inspired you to get inside the head of a twentysomething man?
Audur: The novel tells the story of a very young father who is "practically brought up in a greenhouse" and has three main interests in life: sex, death, and cultivating roses. The story focuses on his many complex roles as a son, a twin brother, a lover, and a father. I was particularly interested in fatherhood, which is in many ways an abstract experience--especially when you have a child with a stranger, like Lobbi does--compared to the woman's experience of giving birth. I like to play with traditional gender roles by talking about male sensitivity.
Amazon.com: Lobbi tries to move on after his mother's death by taking a journey to restore the gardens of a remote monastery. Is the monastery he visits based on a real place?
Audur: Many people have asked me where the beautiful rose garden in the story is. I answer that the possibility of creating a garden and making it real is always there if you can make it grow in the reader's mind. That's how fiction works. My Lobbi is traveling through an unnamed country. As in all fictional travels, the narrator becomes acquainted with himself, rather than with a place.
Amazon.com: Through Lobbi's grief-stricken eyes after the death of his mother, you paint Iceland as barren and desolate place. But how would you describe the country yourself?
Audur: The natural landscape is breathtaking. It is like being lost in space or in infinity, and it gives you the feeling of total freedom. Being an Icelander also means being part of a small community of 317,000 people and being constantly confronted with the unpredictable: weather, volcanic eruptions, bankruptcy. Being an Icelandic writer means expressing myself in a marginal language that no one understands.
Amazon.com: You have a degree in art history and also work as a curator. How did you get into writing? Does your eye for art give you a different perspective?
Audur: I think the main impact of working full-time as an art historian is that there's a longer gap between books. But thousands of pictures have gone through my mind, and they probably have some influence on my writing. There's often a picture in my mind as a starting point, but while I'm writing, it disappears beneath layers of text.
My view of the world has always been slightly skewed. Then, out of nowhere, I had this urge to create fictitious worlds with their own laws. Maybe it comes from a strong need for freedom. Like many writers, I want the world to be different, and writing novels is my small contribution to that.
Amazon.com: Lobbi and Anna's daughter is an angelic creature--easy to care for and a positive influence on others. But you’re a mother, and you know that child rearing can be far from easy. Why did you portray the baby that way?
Audur: Is not any child a miracle and fatherhood a wonderful opportunity?
The Greenhouse has been awarded numerous literary prizes including the Prix de Page for the best European novel of 2010. It’s available on Kindle for $7.99