The Woman at 1,000 Degrees

Pages: 464
Subject: Fiction, Translated Fiction
Imprint: Oneworld

The Woman at 1,000 Degrees

Hallgrímur Helgason

Translated by Brian FitzGibbon
A darkly comic and explosive tale of a world at war and one island girl's struggle to survive
9781786071699 (1 Feb 2018)
RRP £14.99

The Book

‘I live here alone in a garage, together with a laptop and an old hand grenade. It's pretty cosy.'

And...she's off. Eighty-year-old Herra Björnsson lies alone in her garage waiting to die. One of the most original narrators in literary history, she takes readers with her on a dazzling ride of a novel as she reflects - in a voice by turns darkly funny, bawdy, poignant, and always, always smart - on the mishaps, tragedies and turns of luck that shaped her life.

Born into a prominent political family, Herra's idyllic childhood in the islands of western Iceland was brought to an abrupt end when her father foolishly cast his lot with a Hitler on the rise. Separated from her mother, and with her father away at war, she finds herself abandoned and alone in war-torn Germany, relying on her wits and occasional good fortune to survive. Now, with death approaching, forced to hack into her sons' emails to have any contact with them at all, Herra decides to take control of her destiny and sets a date for her own cremation - at a temperature of 1,000 degrees.

In this international bestseller, Hallgrímur Helgason invites readers on a journey that is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, and which ultimately tells the deeply moving story of a woman swept up by the forces of history.

Additional Information

Subject Fiction, Translated Fiction
Pages 464
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

Hallgrímur Helgason is an Icelandic painter, novelist, translator, and columnist. His first novel was published in 1990 and he came to international fame with his third novel, 101 Reykjavik, which was translated into fourteen languages and was made into a film. A father of three, he divides his time between Reykjavík and the island of Hrísey. Find out more at

Brian FitzGibbon is a translator and author. He is the translator of 101 Reykjavik, also by Hallgrímur Helgason, and of Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, which was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2014. He lives in Reykjavík.


‘Breathtaking… Herra's life, and voice, is deeply compelling.'

- Financial Times

'What a novel! A gutsy, brilliant book: I could not tear myself away from it.'

- Hannah Kent, author of Burial Rites

‘One of the most original novels of the year.'

- Irish Independent

'[Herra] is the most unreliable of unreliable narrators, but her perspective might be just what we need in these uncertain times: She survives and shares her story on her terms. And what a story it is, one worth reading to further understand the complexity of World War II — and to enjoy the quick wit of a woman you won't forget.'

- Washington Post

'The Woman at 1,000 Degrees is a bold work of fiction that gnaws at the silence blanketing the blackest holes of humanity to lay bare the author's dark vision of truth.'

- Washington Independent Review of Books

'Icelandic novelist Helgason shares with John Irving a knack for masterful plotting and clever, sarcastic humour...anyone willing to...revel in its flights of language will find much to enjoy.'

- Booklist

'Helgason's sad and funny novel begins in 2009, as 80-year-old Herra Björnsson lies dying in a Reykavík garage, still in possession of a live hand grenade from World War II...In her unsentimental, unsparing narrative, she offers insights into Icelandic culture and character, including a riff on reticence and a brief summary of Iceland's financial meltdown. Like the Icelandic landscape, she can be both appealing and treacherous.'

- Publishers Weekly, starred review

'This novel is a shock, a laugh, an evocation of grief, and a tribute to survival and imagination.'

- Affinity Konar, author of Mischling

'Gripping, darkly comic, and utterly original.'

- Valerie Martin, author of Property

‘An explosive experience'

- Elle

'This is a profoundly, triumphantly feminist book... There's nothing like it in our language.'

- Toronto Star

‘By turns funny, sweet, gripping and sad but never sentimental, Helgason's a sensitive tale of a nearly lived life.'

- Monocle

‘A mind-blowing doorstopper'

- Le Monde des Livres

‘Helgason's characters are rare beauties. One falls for his absurd fantasies immediately.' 


‘This novel is toxic. The cover, the crumpled lady with the pink wig should have been warning enough, still one is stunned. This novel charges at you like a little terrier after you have opened a garden gate. It barks short, hoarse sentences. However, you don't want to put this book down again!'

- Der Spiegel 1

‘A ride through the 20th century of the ice island through the Nazi German Reich to Argentina and back again - wildly, tough, and devilishly clever. "Like” it? It rocks!' 

- Stern

‘The most surprising, funny, bonkers novel of the season' 

- Lire

‘You don't know her yet, but she already despises you… With a biting humour, she examines love, marriage, sex, politics, and those who practice them.'  

- Le Figaro Magazine

‘Passionate, explosive and fiery…' 

- El Periodico

Book of the year!' 

- SWR3 Radio

‘A caustic and human story that is tragic with a great sense of humour at the same time.' 

- ABC Libros

‘If this had been written by a different, non-Icelandic author, it would be a pulp Charles Dickens, with a bit of Chuck Palahniuk thrown in.' 

- Il Giornale

‘Playing with time and with history, this is a tragicomic and hard-hitting novel in which the author gets to the heart of a global situation and the vagaries of Icelandic politics.'

- El Diario