Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist
One autumn day in 1992, former pop singer Lennart Cederstrom finds something unexpected in the forest: a baby girl in a plastic bag, partially buried. He gives her the kiss of life, and her first cry astounds him; it is a clear, pure musical note. He takes her to his wife and persuades her that they should keep this remarkable child. But the baby becomes a strange girl, made more unusual by their decision to hide her in their basement to keep her from the prying eyes of government departments. When she reaches puberty, a terrifying scene sees her kill both her parents. When her scheming adopted brother returns to find her over their bodies, he seizes the opportunity and enters her into an X Factor-style talent competition. She quickly becomes famous. In spite of this, she remains very lonely, until she befriends another damaged girl on the internet. They form a powerful bond and soon create a growing gang of other disgruntled girls and, calling themselves the Wolves, they set out to take revenge for all they’ve ever suffered.
This is the third novel I’ve read written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, after the incredible Let The Right One In and the almost brilliant Harbour. Little Star is his first non-supernatural book, and although still very much obviously of the horror genre, it is definitely a different kind of horror to his previous novels. In Harbour and Let The Right One In we see two very supernatural monsters – vampires, and interestingly the sea itself. But when it comes to Little Star the horror of the story comes from two little girls who have both led rather sad childhoods.
Theres is discovered by Lennart one day in the woods, buried in the soil in a plastic bag, barely alive. Giving her the kiss of life, he takes her home and decides to keep her, much to the dismay of his wife, Laila. Theres has literally struck a cord with Lennart, when the only sound she ever makes is by singing of humming various tunes. Her voice is like an angel’s, one that appeals very much to the musician he used to be. Theres is not allowed to leave the house for fear of what the neighbours might say, so she lives out her youth down in the basement, after being told that the big (adult) people are after the little people. Theres is terrified of being caught by the big people and so turns to various tools she can use as weapons, from hammers to nails, to screwdrivers and saws. No one can get her now. Not even Lennart and Laila whose bodies are now scattered over the basement floor.
Teresa, on the other hand, has a nice big family with parents who love her. The only problem is that she’s overweight, unattractive and bullied by her classmates. Her only source of comfort is her best friend Johannes, that is until he starts dating the prettiest girl in school and everything starts to change.
Teresa and Theres meet after Theres stars in a reality television singing competition, similar to The X Factor. Theres is considered strange by most viewers, apart from Teresa who finds herself drawn to the girl with the beautiful voice and awkward personality. The two girls strike up a conversation via the internet and begin to meet regularly. Their friendship feels like a natural fit for both of them, and nothing can break the bond that has grown between them. One cannot live without the other. Their friendship soon leads to devastating consequences when other girls are brought into their bubble and together they become ‘the Wolves,’ a pack of dangerous girls who seek revenge for everything that has made their life a misery.
This is quite a difficult book to review for me, and I can’t really say why. I’m still struggling to decide how I really feel for it, and some of what I feel is very conflicted. But I’ll try to share what I can. First off, this book made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, and that’s not rare for Lindqvist, or for any book of the horror genre. I remember having this feeling with his other books, but this felt like a different kind of uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the fact that this isn’t a supernatural story, maybe it’s because in this day and age where social media affects teenage girls in such dreadful ways, this kind of situation could actually be plausible. There could be teenagers out there who are so sick of being bullied, so sick of feeling like they have no where they belong, so sick of themselves that they are driven to kill. It’s a horrific thought and Lindqvist certainly deals with it in such a way that it feels real.
In some ways, the reason for these events seeming so life-like is the way that Lindqvist takes you from the very beginning of each girl’s life showing you how they’ve developed into these angst-ridden teenagers. It’s not like they suddenly turned evil, you know exactly how and why they have turned out the way they have, and in a rather bizarre way Lindqvist makes you feel almost sympathetic towards them. Sadly, the downside of this is that I felt like the novel was too long. I thought each girl’s childhood was explored a little too much, and ended up becoming a bit tedious at points. I wanted to get to the good stuff! See what I mean about feeling conflicted? The constant references to Swedish musicians and poets (though I have no idea if they are real, but I would assume they are), also become dull because I just didn’t recognise them and couldn’t really relate to them being a part of the story.
So when the good stuff finally came – once the girls had formed their pack, the pivotal point you feel like you’ve been waiting the entire novel for – it sort of fizzles out slowly, and I mean very slowly. The last twenty pages I became a bit bored and just wanted it to finish. This is the same problem I had with Harbour, where I also felt like the last one hundred pages just weren’t on a par with the rest of the novel. Maybe Lindqvist just isn’t one for endings, striving to do something different, but it’s odd that this has happened twice for me now. Obviously, you know from the blurb, before evening reading the book, that these girls are going to go on some kind of massacre. There is no suspense because the whole novel is basically outlined in the blurb, and although I started to admire Lindqvist for telling the massacre from the victims’ point of view, there were just far too many of them, each one basically telling the same thing over and over again. At first I thought it was clever, but you know what they say about having too much of a good thing right?
So one of my major gripes is obviously the blurb. I just felt like throughout the whole novel I was saying to myself ‘oh yes this is the bit where she joins the singing competition,’ ‘and this bit is where they meet other girls and form a pack’. There was very little suspense because you knew everything that was coming. However, that’s not to say I didn’t want to carry on reading, because I did. Again I’m feeling conflicted here. Lindqvist always writes in such a way that makes you want to keep reading, and this is definitely helped with the short snappy chapters in this novel. So I had no problem with wanting to keep on reading, but I just wish I didn’t know the whole plot outline before I started. My last gripe is the cover. I’ve seen one other reviewer comment on this as well, so I know I’m not alone here. If I saw it in a shop, and it wasn’t by Lindqvist I probably wouldn’t be drawn to it. I don’t even remember there being a doll in the story for one (though admittedly the doll probably represents a sort of tortured childhood more than anything else), and I think something much darker in a more subtle kind of way would serve the story better. What Lindqvist has written is something very unique here, and the cover feels very ordinary.
I told you this would be a difficult one to review and now I’ve written an essay! The thing is, despite my negative points here, I did enjoy the novel. For me, it’s not as good as Lindqvist’s previous work, but I can also appreciate and applaud the fact that he has tried to do something different here by breaking away from the supernatural, and into the very real horror that can so easily happen in our world. Not only that but he does it well. It’s horrific, violent, gory, unsettling and yet so very realistic. I feel a sense of unease just thinking about it. If you like horror, then definitely give this one a go just to try something a little different, because if there’s one thing Lindqvist is good at, it’s being different.
Little Star is out now, published by Quercus. Thanks goes to the publisher for sending me a proof copy to review!
You can catch John Ajvide Lindqvist in a rare appearance at Forbidden Planet on 3rd October 2011. For details please click here.