In the Marble Maze: A Widower’s Memoir

By Olafur Gundnason

Release date, 3 June 2022

Photo by Benjamin Suter on

Icelandic literary tradition stretches back a thousand years and more. Its sagas of love, loss, and endurance are a unique contribution to the world’s literary heritage. They contain myths and legends, family histories and genealogies. Gudnason’s memoir echoes these ancient forms, building his lost wife, Engilbjort’s modern legend. Iceland’s current writers and artists record present-day sagas of triumph and tragedy with lyrics and lines of poetry aimed straight at the heart. The author draws on these as he shares his love story.

In the Marble Maze stays grounded through painful moments, bringing us inside Intensive Care units, guest houses, and the empty home to which the author returns without his beloved Engilbjort. Descriptions of complicated treatments and emergency surgeries don’t make for light reading, but Gudnason makes us members of Engilbjort’s circle. We are among those pulling for her as she fights for her life. The Facebook chat messages which could become myopic and exclusive are, instead, a warm way to touch our hearts in shared human grief.

“I don’t recall

experiencing denial

or anger, nor having

attempted to bargain

my way out of

my loss,”

Olafur Gudnason

Gudnason wants to remember. Counselling and books on living with grief are a comfort, but he is honest when the advice doesn’t resonate. “I don’t recall experiencing denial or anger, nor having attempted to bargain my way out of my loss,” he writes in response to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Yet, in optimistic Facebook posts, he denies that a stopped heart is the end of the line. Each risky surgery and private prayer for Engilbjort’s survival is a bargaining. The botched arrangements for the return of her remains provoke an anger Gudnason knows is out of character. As a grieving husband, he faces the sadness and acceptance of laying a loved one to rest.

In the Marble Maze is one of many memorials Gudnason creates for Engilbjort. As he sorts through relics, photos, and clothing, he takes time to remember. With songs and poetry from Iceland and around the world, he tells their story. He emphasizes family and community while giving it the gravity and timelessness of the greatest ancient sagas.

Thank you to Reedsy Discovery for an Advance Reader’s Copy of this title. In the Marble Maze launches on 3 June 2022. This review appeared first on

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