History. A Mess.

by Sigrún Pálsdóttir


A young PhD student believes she has uncovered the first professional female artist in Britain. It’s a discovery that could transform her career and reputation. However, in her haste to break new ground, she has made a simple mistake which threatens everything – and she won’t acknowledge her error until it’s far too late. As she goes to ever greater lengths to protect her work from the truth, she begins to lose her grip on her thesis, her life and ultimately her sanity. History. A Mess is a remarkable exploration of intellectual integrity and denial, and a gripping and satirical portrait of academic ambition.

168pp, paperback with flaps, £12.99
ISBN 978-1-908670-75-5
Publication date: 6 February 2023

Press & Reviews

'A sweeping and intuitive work.' - Asymptote Journal

'Its ambition is met with resounding success every step of the way.' - Willow Heath, Books & Bao

'‘Fans of the nouveau roman – Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, etc. – will be right at home here.' - Kirkus Reviews

'Pálsdóttir writes with the hand of a mystery author and the mind of a postmodernist, teasing out her protagonist’s problem while playing with literary forms, fragmenting timelines, and injecting fierce irony.' - Publishers Weekly

'Absolutely brilliant from beginning to end.' Icelandic National Television

'A complex and arresting novel where a super-precise
style and an ingenious construction come together.' Committee for the Women’s Literature Prize, Iceland

About The Book


Sigrún Pálsdóttir is an Icelandic writer and historian. She completed a PhD in the History of Ideas at the University of Oxford in 2001, after which she was a research fellow at the University of Iceland. She was the editor of Saga, the principal peer-reviewed journal for Icelandic history, from 2008 to 2016. She first came to prominence as an author of historical biographies, including the 19th century biography Þóra biskups (Thora. A Bishop’s Daughter, 2010) and Sigrún og Friðgeir (Uncertain Seas, 2013), and has since published three novels. Pálsdóttir’s work has been nominated for the Icelandic Literary Prize, the Icelandic Women’s Literature Prize, the Hagþenkir Non-fiction Prize and the DV Culture Prize. Sigrún og Friðgeir won the Icelandic Booksellers’ Prize in 2013, and her second novel Delluferðin (forthcoming in English under the title Embroidery) was awarded the European Union Prize for Fiction 2021. First published as Kompa in 2016, History. A Mess. is her debut novel and is the first to be translated into English.


Lytton Smith has translated over a dozen novels and nonfiction books from the Icelandic, including works by Andri Snær Magnason, Bragi Ólafsson, Kristín Ómarsdóttir, and Ófeigur Sigurðsson. He was awarded a 2019 Literary Arts Fellowship in Translation from the National Endowment for the Arts. His most recent poetry collection, The Square, won the 2020 NMP/ Diagram Chapbook Contest.