by John Ajvide Lindqvist
(trans. Marlaine Delargy)
‘The child screamed and screamed, and its crying sounded like nothing Lennart had ever heard before….. Lennart had a good ear, and he didn’t need a tuning fork to tell him that it was an E’
Little Star is a delicious, satirical horror story by the author of Let The Right One In (read review here). Once again, Lindqvist focuses on modern society and all the things that are wrong with it, in this case the cult of celebrity, trolling and the dark side of social media. As in the earlier novel, bullying comes into this one too, though it’s mostly a different sort of bullying.
”Theres lowered the saw and her eyes slid from Laila to Lennart, over the bits of their heads strewn all around her.’
The main protagonists of Little Star too are children, two teenage girls who are misfits, but for very different reasons. Theres is beautiful – striking blue eyes, golden hair – and she sings like an angel. However, she has no social skills whatever. She isn’t a vampire but that doesn’t mean she isn’t eerie (or even scary). Found as a baby in a plastic bag by Lennart, he takes her home to his wife Laila. Fearful that the authorities will take her away from them, he confines her to a cellar and as she grows up convinces her the world is a bad place and that the ‘big people’ are out to get her and eat her up.
By comparison, Teresa has a normal family, parents who say they love her, and two siblings. [You have to think of the Scandinavian pronunciation here to realise the two girls have almost identical names.] But Teresa is what society, especially her school contemporaries, call a fat girl, which means she is the target of some pretty awful jibes. However, she has talents too, first as a poet and lyricist, second as an internet troll.
‘Tora half-turned and Teresa just managed to catch a glimpse of a totally alien expression on her face. A hint of a grimace, suggesting that she…..was about to unsheathe her claws.’
Eventually the two girls get together. They combine their talents and as Tesla they become a sensation. Teresa’s songs and Theres’s singing attract the attention of washed-up music producer Max Hansen, a man who has a weakness for teenage girls (and I mean that in the nastiest possible sense). But trying it on with Theres isn’t really something he should do.
Of course, Lennart’s teaching has consequences and as Teresa introduces Theres to the outside world, we begin to see what these consequences might be. Not only will they be bad for grown-ups like Lennart, Laila and Max, but they may turn out to be very bloody and gruesome indeed. Then there is Jerry, Theres’s older adoptive brother. He and Theres seem to have reached a kind of stand-off toleration of one another – but can Jerry rely on that to protect him from her warped sense of what is ‘good’?
‘ “I sang,” said Theres. ‘”Then I took off my clothes. Then he tried to eat me up. I wasn’t scared. I knew I could make him dead.” ‘
Theres introduces other girls into her circle, inculcating them with her own special brand of philosophy. They have a thing about wolves, hand tools and baby food; they flirt with ideas like dying, capturing life essence and resurrection. But are they going to act out their fantasies? The scene is set for horrific climax that has already been predicted in the very first page of the novel. But how will the story resolve? And, remembering the outcome of the Oskar/Eli relationship in Let The Right One In, what kind of future is there likely to be for Theres and Teresa?
Little Star is not a vampire tale. There isn’t a supernatural creature in sight. Those girls and their companions are seriously weird but that’s all. It would be stretching a point to say that my sympathies remained with Theres and Teresa throughout. However, I was well into the story before I began to wonder if enough was enough.
The ending is vaguely reminiscent of Golding’s Lord of the Flies and of the 1968 British movie If, but much worse. If you like a good horror, this in one for you!