Touch: Olaf Olafsson

In Olaf Olafsson’s Touch, during COVID, Reykjavik restaurateur 74 year-old Kristófer must close his popular and once successful business. He tried to adapt with delivery and takeaway services, but his attempts have failed and the twenty-year-old restaurant is no longer viable. The novel opens with Kristófer finalizing financial matters for the restaurant, paying bills, paying staff. He checks Facebook and there finds a friend request, which he accepts, from Miko Takahashi, a woman he knew, loved and lost more than 40 years before. …

Perhaps thinking he has nothing to lose, and perhaps because he wants to find out why Miko disappeared from his life, Kristófer decides to fly to Japan to see her. She has COVID, was hospitalized but is now home, and Kristófer books his flight without telling his hostile brother Mundi or his prickly stepdaughter Sonja. Over the course of the novel, it becomes clear that these are both problematic relationships.

Kristófer has a stop in London, and uses the time to visit the scene of the crime–the place where he met Miko, whose father owned a small but successful Japanese restaurant. Part of the novel is a trip down memory lane–an easy to understand action–so Kristófer stands outside of what was once the restaurant and finds instead a tattoo parlour. Talk about getting a sense of one’s own mortality. All this brings back memories for Kristófer. As a student studying Economics he was infected with the 60s bug, and aware of his own lack of interest inn his studies and haunted by the spectre of mediocrity, he dropped out of university and in a moment of sheer bravado decide to enter the restaurant business.

Touch is the examination of a depressing life filled with regretted decisions. There’s Kristófer’s spur-of-the moment decision to begin a restaurant career, his tepid marriage to his now dead wife, Inga, and his dis-spiriting intellectually intimidating relationship with fellow student Jói. The passage of time hammers a bitter reality into these decisions–simultaneously magnifying and diminishing their importance. But the central mystery here is why Miko disappeared.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic. I closed my restaurant and traveled halfway across the world. What for? To get back what never existed? To make myself feel better–to search for something that will justify my life?

For this reader, the most interesting sections of the novel explored Kristófer’s flawed personal relationships. He somehow managed to bypass understanding his now-dead wife’s inner life, which goes a long way to explaining his annoying stepdaughter’s alienation. He managed to miss his faithful long-term employee’s dream. Kristófer’s renewed contact with Miko was the least interesting part of the novel, which is unfortunate as it is central. This may be due to my failing/quirk as a human being who fails to see/questions the advisability of picking up a social media friend request from someone who dumped you 40 years before. But perhaps that’s just me. …I’m more of a ‘let sleeping dogs lie,’ ‘the past is a foreign country,’ you made your bed...’ kind of person. Call that living in the moment.

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2 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Olafsson Olaf, posts

2 responses to “Touch: Olaf Olafsson

  1. Interesting to read this review. I loved The Journey Home, and the next one I read was One Station Away which I felt was based around Joyce Hatto, but not acknowledged as such. This one seems to follow a popular theme of his, an old man looking back, as in Walking into the Night.

  2. Loved One Station Away. I wish this had concentrated on the relationships Kristófer had, but then I am not the writer.

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