by John Ajvide Lindqvist
‘The sea has given and the sea has taken away.’
Harbour is Lindqvist’s third supernatural novel. This one is set on the fictional island of Domaro in the Swedish archipelago, where Anders and Cecilia have a holiday cottage. One winter day, the couple set out with their six-year-old daughter Maja across the ice to the lighthouse on a nearby rock. No one else is around, yet Maja simply disappears. Anders goes into rapid decline. He and Cecilia divorce and he starts drinking.
Two years after the event, Anders returns to Domaro and takes up full-time residence. Among his neighbours are his grandmother, Anna-Greta, and the magician-illusionist, Simon. Anna-Greta and Simon are lovers.
‘… before he had time to react, his blood began pumping out of his body … splashing over Henrik’s face and hands, the steps and Anders’ legs.’
Before long, we realise there’s something very strange and creepy about Domara. People are always disappearing, and they never come back – well, that’s the theory. Anna-Greta has her secrets but they are as nothing to Simon’s. He keeps an insect in a matchbox and every day he must feed it with his saliva. The creature is a Spiritus, and keeping it alive in this way gives Simon special power over water.
Anders is no sooner back on Domaro when things start to happen. He feels Maja’s presence and begins receiving messages from her. Or is he actually turning into Maja? It isn’t entirely clear. He sleeps in her bed and plays with her toys.
Then, the body of one of the ‘missing’ women turns up. Two teenagers, Hubba and Bubba, return from the dead and ride around on a moped, wreaking havoc in the community. The question is, I suppose, do all these happenings have anything to do with the lighthouse? Or are they more unearthly (literally so) than that? And will Anders ultimately find Maja – or is Lindqvist about to go off in an entirely new direction?
‘A round black shape appeared over the edge, and the next moment the whole insect was out of the box. It had grown. Its skin was shiny and its body was moving smoothly across the floor, heading for Anders’ lips.’
Harbour is billed as horror. I hesitate to call it that; there are a couple of grisly bits, such as when Hubba and Bubba carve up the self-mutilating Elin. The description of Elin’s mutilations – cosmetic surgery, it’s called! – are actually more horrific than the massacre itself. There are a few other tingly moments, but nothing to raise hairs on the back of the neck. The enjoyment is in the mixture of the mundane and the magic, and Lindqvist’s talent lies in getting this mixture just right. In not knowing where the story is going.
‘A line of ghostly white footprints led across the ice in the direction of the mainland … Then they stopped. In the middle of nowhere …’
I didn’t enjoy Harbour as much as Let The Right One In or Little Star. The action jumps about from present to past to give us back story, which tends to slow things and reduce the suspense. Yet I didn’t want to put it down. There is just enough mystery and madness to compel turning the pages.