Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist
It was a beautiful winter’s day. Anders, his wife and their feisty six-year-old, Maja, set out across the ice of the Swedish archipelago to visit the lighthouse on Gavasten. There was no one around, so they let her go on ahead. And she disappeared, seemingly into thin air, and was never found. Two years later, Anders is a broken alcoholic, his life ruined. He returns to the archipelago, the home of his childhood and his family. But all he finds are Maja’s toys and through the haze of memory, loss and alcohol, he realizes that someone – or something – is trying to communicate with him. Soon enough, his return sets in motion a series of horrifying events which exposes a mysterious and troubling relationship between the inhabitants of the remote island and the sea.
Harbour was published late September 2010 in hardback by Quercus and is Lindqvist’s third novel that has been translated into English. Linqvist is most well-known for having written Let The Right One In – a brilliant horror story that turns the vampire cliche into something entirely new. You may also have seen the film adaptation that was also released last year – Let Me In.
Having read Let The Right One In I became a huge fan of Lindqvist’s work and writing style. He is most often dubbed ‘the new Stephen King’ but I feel that he does bring his own flare to the horror genre. I was very excited to read his latest novel Harbour and desperately hoped that it would live up to my expectations. For the most part – it did.
Harbour is about so much more than the disappearance of Maja, a young girl who seemingly vanishes one day on a family outing to a lighthouse. It is about the community who live together on this bleak, treacherous island in Sweden. It is about people past and present who have some way or another been lured to the island and have then found themselves quite unable to leave. But more than anything it is about the mysterious power of the sea – the hold that it seems to have on the entire island. I really liked this as a theme for a horror story. The sea can be beautiful to look at when your stood on a sunny beach watching the sunset – but we must not forget just how dangerous the sea truly is. It is vast and endless, with unexplored depths beneath. It has the power to flood entire countries, to grow and grow into waves big enough to block out the sun and unleash its power and flatten everything in its path. It feels no guilt or remorse when it takes people’s lives so quickly that it is as if they never existed. The sea really is a powerful ‘being’ almost, and Lindqvist never lets us forget this. What gives this story it’s tension and horror is the actual mystery of the sea – can we ever really understand it? As human beings we depend on the sea for many things – survival, travel, food etc but we are never really in control of it.
There are a lot of back- stories throughout the novel that follows many other characters such as Anders’ grandmother Anna-Greta and her partner Simon. I often found myself much more interested in these characters than I was with Maja and her father Anders. Anders has become a chain-smoking alcoholic who cannot sleep and makes random phone calls to his ex wife. For me, he became a little bit dull. However, Simon and his past life as a magician and his finding of the mysterious insect Spiritius which seems to hold some kind of power of water, is a brilliant side-line to the novel. Anna-Greta and her secrets are also very captivating and I always felt that something was just a little bit odd about her.
If you have read Let The Right One In you will be used to Lindqvist’s writing style. He creates entire new worlds – new communities where every person has a story that must be told. Some may find it hard to deal with the constant flitting back and forth between the past and present and all the different characters but for me, it really does bring substance to the novel and gives it a bit more depth.
I don’t want to give too much of the story away as Lindqvist really is a master story-teller in the sense that he will keep you hooked and keep you wondering exactly what is going on on this island and what is happening to the people there – and where the hell is Maja?! He unravels the answers slowly and carefully and the story continues to get more and more interesting. That is until the last one hundred pages…
I was very annoyed with the way it ended and after what I considered to be a brilliant four hundred pages I was extremely frustrated that it had gone dramatically downhill. It didn’t really sum it up for me in the way that I wanted and everything that I thought would happen didn’t. It was confusing, disjointed, and mind-baffling. I honestly felt that after reading 3/4’s of the novel it was actually in some ways better than Let The Right One In – I loved the mysterious element of the sea, the characters were interesting, the whole plot was fantastic. If only it hadn’t been for the last one hundred pages I would have declared this a fantastic read. I do not doubt Lindqvist’s ability as an author – I still think he his unquestionably one of the front-runner’s of the horror genre today and that his talent for writing is incredible. I only hope he can do slightly better next time…
To read my earlier review of Let The Right One click here