The Museum Of Whales You Will Never See by A. Kendra Greene is an extraordinary book. It is going to become one of those books that will constantly sell and continue to mesmerise readers by occupying that magical space between reality and folklore. On the face of it, the book is a travelogue by an essayist, printer and maker of artist’s books. Greene travels to Iceland to visit some of the 265 museums and public collections that exist in a nation of 330,000 people. These are astonishing collections ranging from.the phallic to rocks. It is impossible to succinctly sum up what this book contains except to say that once done reading this book slowly, it is a satisfying read. Greene does a phenomenal job in promoting Iceland by delving into its history through the various collections browses through. In recent years, it has become fashionable to tell histories through “a object” as if that one object can symbolise a moment in time and culture. In many case by decontextualising the object and focussing upon it, scrubs away layers and layers of history that actually enrich the experience of appreciating the objet d’art. This is exactly what Greene happily undoes in this stupendous book by introducing the reader to various art forms or those that can be called and valued as art by the locals, but the true value of the objects emerges from the interactions of the tourists and locals. Greene also uses different stories as a springboard to go back in time to introduce readers to the vastly rich Icelandic cultural heritage. A past that has not been formed by religious considerations alone but by socio-economic concerns such as trade and the very particular glacial topography. She weaves it all together superbly with the abundant folklore. So much so that it does not seem unusual to move seamlessly between the real and imagined realms. Even the long book title that does hint at the magic that resides within the pages does not prepare the reader sufficiently for the beauteous prose and very fulfilling reading experience.
9 Nov 2020