Monday, 22 April 2013

Harem: Notes and clarifications


Harem is fiction, but it's fiction based in the real world. However, it's a real world slightly modified.

In part seven, Fiona says to the American journalist that 'there is no road' from Seyðisfjorður to Loðmundarfjorður. In the book, she's deliberately lying; in the real world, she's right. There is no road, and, furthermore, if there were a road, although she's right that it's only eight miles, it would be a tough ride on a bike with a wean on the back - there's a high (and steep) ridge to cross. I do not know whether there are really hot springs in Loðmundarfjorður, but it isn't very likely - it's quite a long way from current volcanic activity. The Kárahnjúkar dam, and the aluminium smelter at Reyðarfjörður it was built to serve, are real, and the controversy over their building was real and painful in Iceland. Indeed, all the places I describe in Iceland, with the exception of the house at Loðmundarfjorður and the road to it, are real.

Blackwater tarn, and the house on it, do not exist. If they did exist, they would be somewhere near the hamlet of Holm, above Holmfirth in West Yorkshire. The unnamed village in which Jane Wilkinson lives (end of Part Two) is entirely imaginary.

The city in which most of the action takes place, and where Þórr Goðursson plays football for 'United', is consciously based on Manchester, and that's partly made explicit in that Tracey Culverton works for Greater Manchester Police; you may think of the city as Manchester if that helps you. It does, after all, have an iconic town hall. Barcelona, where the Harem later relocates, is clearly a real city (with a real football club). But the roundabout where Fiona meets Kate, the cafe where she meets Eleanor, the office where she works, the hospital in which Kate and Eleanor work, are not based on any real places. The Edinburgh Evening News, on which Fiona had her first job, and The Scotsman, on which her then-husband worked, are both real newspapers, and Leith Walk in Edinburgh, where their flat had been, is a real place. The Examiner, a left-leaning broadsheet Sunday newspaper with supplements, is clearly more like the Observer than the Sunday Times.

As a work of fiction, the characters are all imaginary, although one or two real people get mentions (Graeme Obree, for example, whose photograph Þórr has on his wall, is a real person). There are a number of real world professional footballers who hail from Iceland, but Þórr is not based on any of them. Indeed, I know almost nothing about them; I know almost nothing about football. I've never in my life been to any football game. I hope this isn't too obvious from the text. I wanted to place a young man in a culture foreign to him and far from his home, and Iceland is a place for which I have strong affection.
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