One of the lovely benefits I’ve discovered of being on Twitter is the opportunity to get free books! A few months ago, a note went out from Tor Books that St. Martin’s Press had ARCs of the forthcoming novel by the Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist (author of Let the Right One In and Handling the Undead) to give out to the first 65 people to email them. Score! I was quick enough to nab one. The photo is the uncorrected ARC I received, no doubt the final edition will look somewhat different, and today is the U.S. release date.
I had read Let the Right One In and enjoyed it a great deal, but Harbor really showcases Lindqvist’s talent. It’s a big development in style, we get more inside the characters’ heads, hear their musings and ruminations on life, how they got from point A to point B. The story is told in both current setting and via flashbacks, alternating between the two, ably using the flashbacks to draw detailed portraits of the characters and set up the story, avoiding the “As you know, Bob” infodumps in the present. Flashbacks are usually discouraged for writers, and at first I was a little confused until I realized what he was doing (no reflection on Lindqvist or his writing, I can be a little slow at times), but on the whole I liked the structure, and I would say Lindqvist handles the technique well. If he had simply written the story in a linear fashion I don’t think he could have really gotten around the infodump issue. There’s a lot of history of the people and the location that is revealed slowly, as more pieces of the puzzle drop into place. The incident around which the entire book turns only makes up a small slice of time, which would have been a lot of build-up with little action or could have felt really disjointed.
Lindqvist’s characters are multi-layered, no one is entirely what they seem, and they all have definite motives for their actions and behaviors. The writing is beautiful, and I am only sorry that the book is classified as “horror” because it will likely keep many people who don’t read in the genre from picking up this wonderful author. There is actually minimal gore in the story, so if gore isn’t your thing you could probably skim over those bits without losing too much of the story. There’s an understated supernatural element that drives the events, it’s more creepy than horrific in that sense. I loved the portrait of this island and its inhabitants, normal people going about their lives with this extra dimension guiding them. The ending had a Lovecraftian feel to it, which is all I’ll say about that. But you may never look at the sea the same way again. I’m still letting this book sink in and settle.
Land and sea.
We may think of them as opposites; as complements. But there is a difference in how we think of them; the sea, and the land.
If we are walking around in a forest, a meadow or a town, we see our surroundings as being made up of individual elements. There are this many different kinds of trees in varying sizes, those buildings, these streets. The meadow, the flowers, the bushes. Our gaze lingers on details, and if we are standing in a forest in the autumn, we become tongue-tied if we try to describe the richness around us. All this exists on land.
But the sea. The sea is something completely different. The sea is one.
We may note the shifting moods of the sea. What the sea looks like when the wind is blowing, how the sea plays with the light, how it rises and falls. But still it is always the sea we are talking about. We have given different parts of the sea different names for navigation and identification, but if we are standing before the sea, there is only one whole. The sea.
If we are taken so far out in a small boat that no land is visible in any direction, we may catch sight of the sea. It is not a pleasant experience. The sea is a god, an unseeing, unhearing deity that surrounds us and has all imaginable power over us. That’s just the way it is. The sea knows no limits, makes no concessions. It has given us everything and it can take everything away from us.
To other gods we send our prayers: Protect us from the sea.
I know I’ll be re-reading this one.
(Winner of the giveaway contest for a copy of the book will be announced later today.)