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The Mark

Translated by Larissa Kyzer

In the near future, in Reykjavík, in a world like our own, society is divided about the controversial Empathy Test, which measures an individual’s capacity for compassion and identifies anti-social behaviour in citizens. Two thirds of the country, including public servants and politicians, have undergone the test, and ‘marked’ themselves in an official register, open to the public. One third remains ‘unmarked’ and more and more private and public spaces are closing their doors to them. In two months’ time, citizens face a national referendum, in which they will vote on whether the test should be mandatory or not.

Amid the rising tension and via the voices of four compelling characters—the sceptical teacher Vetur, the influential psychologist Óli, the businesswoman Eyja, who fails the test, and the school dropout Tristan, who is fighting for the right not to be tested—we are confronted with urgent ethical dilemmas, prejudice, injustice, and private trauma. The suspense intensifies as these four individuals try to navigate a brave new world. The rules of the game have changed. What are the consequences?

For fans of Black Mirror, or readers of the novels of Jennifer Egan and Naomi Alderman, The Mark is a brilliant, topical novel by an exciting new writer. Fríða Ísberg’s book asks: do we want to live in a world defined by our faith in each other, or by our fear of the future.


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Fríða Ísberg
About the Author

Fríða Ísberg is an Icelandic author based in Reykjavík. She has written the poetry collections Stretch Marks and Leather Jacket Weather, the short story collection Itch and the novel The Mark, which won the Fjara Literature Prize, the Icelandic Booksellers Award, and the P.O. Enquist Award. She was the 2021 recipient of the Optimist Award, given...

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About the Translator

Larissa Kyzer is an Icelandic to English literary translator, writer, and editorial professional. Currently based in Brooklyn, New York, she lived in Reykjavík for five years after receiving a Fulbright grant. Her translations include children’s books, short stories, poetry, essays, plays, nonfiction, and novels, most notably Kristín...

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Text publication date:
30 April 2024
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Praise for Fríða Ísberg
andThe Mark

‘This whip-smart, brilliant novel crackles with tension and intelligence. It left me utterly in awe. Friða Ísberg is a creative powerhouse.’

‘[T]he novel exposes how preconceptions about empathy can be shaped, how they’re affected by social disadvantage and traumatic experience…’

‘This searingly brilliant novel is alive to all the nuances in the debate…Fríða Ísberg, like George Orwell and Anthony Burgess before her, lets the dystopian ironies speak for themselves.’

‘Fascinating for the complexity of its consideration of emotional forces and their effects on both individuals and the society they comprise—not just empathy but also trust, its more difficult corollary—their relationships with fear and a desire for security.’

‘Ísberg has written a dangerous book, one which dares to suggest we must navigate the middle ground between ardently held positions if we are to make society functional.’

‘Ísberg creates character-driven suspense with uncommon moral underpinnings. Rather than make a pat argument for either side of the ideological chasm, she explores the vast middle area in which people negotiate what kind of society they’d like to cultivate and inhabit.’

‘Translated fiction always makes it into our highlight reels for the year and The Mark…is no different. Tackling ethical dilemmas, trauma, injustice and full of fascinating characters, fans of Black Mirror or of Naomi Alderman’s work will love this atmospheric wonder.’

‘Gripping and sharply imagined…The Mark presents crucial ethical questions about the risks of social engineering and the boundaries of individual agency…An absolutely stunning debut.’

‘[The Mark] is a novel that fascinates and frightens. Frída Ísberg’s debut novel establishes her her amongst the very top rank of our current and future authors.’

‘One thinks of Aldous Huxley throughout this lively, breathless and very contemporary text where political correctness has become the guarantee of the best of all possible worlds.’

‘Every sentence brings something new, every dialogue shifts the atmosphere in the room. With an eye for the contemporary and convincing attention for her characters, Frída Ísberg takes a big step into the literary world.’

‘A future disturbingly close to us … Fríða's idea about the empathy test is absolutely brilliant, the world is incredibly well built and intriguing. The novel provides countless reflections about the society we live in … Fríða Ísberg is a clever author and extremely sure-footed stylistically … She deserves praise for daring to do something new.’

‘A gripping and unpredictable novel …  intriguing style … the imagery entertaining, ambiguous and sleek … One can ‘sink into the story like a hot tub’, to quote the text itself.’

‘Fríða does not only address existential questions on power and morality with intuition and wisdom but also tackles language and style with great and captivating vigour. Each persona has its own life experience and a stance which surfaces calculated and elaborated in idiom and choice of words. […] It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything so remarkable. Phenomenal and powerful fiction.’

‘[The mark]  is a tortuous book, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes alternating between philosophical, serious, exciting and funny. The characters are not only written by the psychological intuition that also characterized Itch, but they are also unusual and welcome into the rather self-centered world of Icelandic literature […] a breath of fresh air.’

‘Her characters are so three-dimensional. They are so full of contradictions, they have complex backgrounds, and she describes them with … well, that’s when the poet Fríða Ísberg emerges and gives us an insight to their worlds, state of mind, feelings and their driving force. […] Simply incredibly reflective and sharp.’

‘With her award-winning debut The Mark now published in German, Frida Ísberg has written a dystopian thesis novel that illuminates the dark side of our omnipresent desire for empathy. (…) In addition to being an allegory of state and digital surveillance in the context of the pandemic, The Mark also provides a specific critique of the empathic praise of empathy in the age of psychology.’

‘Ísberg is not interested in concealing truths, but in social tipping points. With her novel, the Icelandic writer touches on many topics that concern us today: polarization, democratic societies, debates about vogueness and cancel culture, or aggression on social media. (…) The marking thus becomes a plea for nuance, for doubts, for asking questions and listening to each other. A novel that tells us more about our present than about the future.’

The Mark is a sensual treasure and a must-read of the international literary season.’

‘Ísberg negotiates, in a very nuanced way, the implications of surveillance and normalization, which prototypically end up being just as sensitive and complex as the rest of the characters … In the unpretentious metaphors Ísberg uses to describe the emotional states of her characters not only is her lyrical talent revealed, but her astonishing empathy across gender, generational and class barriers.’

‘Fríða Ísberg’s debut The Mark is a strong novel about fear, hypocrisy and misuse of power, and about who is invited into the community and who is shut out(…) Her portrayals are nothing short of amazing.’

The Mark is a brilliantly intelligent and entertaining novel and a real page-turner.‘

‘Frida Ísberg’s The Mark is revealing, challenging and worthy of all the attention.’

‘Frida Ísberg’s novel The Mark is not only a skilfully executed story about a polarized future society. It is first and foremost a very human story about a few individuals trying in different ways to live their lives under conditions that become increasingly absurd. (…)This is a furiously intelligent book that gets the brain working at high speed.’

The Mark is a polyphonic, thought-provoking book set in Reykjavik. Iceland is in the throes of a referendum in which the Empathy Test may become mandatory. Each resident is tested on their level of empathy or amorality. Four characters are abruptly confronted with the limits of their freedom. A fairly explosive parable about populism, citizenship and prejudice.’

‘Crackingly good (…) extremely timely, fresh, immersive (…) Ísberg draws up a gloomy and terrifying portrait of a near future.’

‘Terrifyingly strong. (…) 31 year old Fríða Ísberg has written a dizzyingly good novel (…) One of the ingenious features of Ísbergs book, is how she makes such a strong case for each of her characters, so that we readers fully understand and believe in their thoughts and actions. (…) I have no doubt that her dystophy will shake readers throughout Europe.’

‘Brilliant! Frida Ísberg creates a dark and burlesque image of a not-too-distant future.’

‘Dystopic and elegant (…) Isberg has an original and totally immersive take on what an emerging, totalitarian society may do to fully fleshed-out, utterly believable people. Her description of the riots and protests against an absurd invention that will condemn people to eternal outsider status, is depicted in a startlingly fresh and terrifying way. This makes the novel very timely… ’

The Mark is a compelling and deeply intelligent novel. Ísberg’s portrayal of the darker elements of society is utterly engrossing, her writing lyrical and elegant, and her characterisations impeccable. While portraying Reykjavik from a unique perspective, The Mark engages the reader in the dynamics of identity, gender, age and class. Notions of vulnerability and belonging are beautifully rendered, while never disregarding the fear and hypocrisy that can shadow them. Ísberg has crafted a novel with razor-sharp insight and deliciously dark humour.’

‘It’s brilliant. This novel could be called ‘dystopian’ but its themes are so tangible, the characters are so real, that wouldn’t be quite right. The desire to be safe and normal becomes authoritarian; the fear of those who are different becomes discrimination. This future Iceland is hopelessly divided, politically and ideologically, in the name of erasing conflict and dissent. The Mark questions what it means to live in an apartheid built on good intentions – or are they?’

‘Ísberg has written a masterpiece of public conscience and consciousness…I feel I could pick up my phone right now and call any of [these characters]…The Mark is one of the most fascinating and ethically nourishing contemporary novels I’ve read in ages.’

Other editions ofThe Mark
  • The Mark
    ISBN: 9781922791689
    30 April 2024
    Buy ebook