Though he is not in many ways an attractive character, Bjartur engages our sympathies and gives Independent People both its centre and its holding power — he is a genuinely unforgettable figure. Some passages switch to other perspectives, notably those of his children: a young child's perspective on waking, a teenage girl's first journey to town, and a young man's "calf" love. In his lyrical descriptions of landscapes and his feel for human relationships with them, and in his portrait of poverty and the grim struggle to stay out of debt, Laxness is reminiscent of Thomas Hardy. In other places he steps back and comments in Tolstoyan fashion on the politics and economics of Iceland and the nature of labour and man's place in the world — with some hints of his (communist) politics, though he is never didactic. That may sound off-putting, but Independent People is neither grim nor heavy going: it is imbued with a warm humour, sardonic but at the same time embracing of humanity — and in some parts it has us almost laughing out loud.
Independent People is a glorious novel, clever and entertaining but also deeply felt and moving. It was published in two parts in 1934 and 1935; in 1955 Halldór Laxness won the Nobel Prize for Literature, "for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland".