Thursday, July 19, 2012

Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Domaro, an isolated little island in a Swedish archipelago, is home to a handful of local families -- the descendants of fishermen -- and an ever-returning group of summer folk. On the shores of Domaro, a young boy and girl begin to fall in love as they contemplate the enormity of the sea, which has been gradually reclaiming its islands -- bit by bit -- since the Ice Age.

Years later, on a winter afternoon, Anders and Cecilia take their six-year-old daughter Maja across the ice to visit the lighthouse in the middle of the frozen channel. While the couple explores the lighthouse, Maja disappears -- seemingly into thin air -- leaving not even a footprint in the snow. 
Two years later, Anders returns to the island, shattered and dependent on alcohol to get through the day. He reconnects with his grandmother, Anna-Greta, a native of Domaro, and her lover Simon. Odd things begin to happen in the house Anders once shared with his wife and daughter, and he senses Maja's presence. Then other strange things begin to happen, and some of them are reminiscent of ugly secrets from Anders's adolescence.
Anna-Greta and the other inhabitants of the island are hiding secrets of their own, including a dark secret that's centuries old. As more and more strange, tragic things take place, she must share these secrets with Simon and Anders so they can survive and Anders can try to find Maja and bring her back.

This novel seized my interest from the first few pages. First and foremost, Lindqvist is a master at exploring human psychology. Everything -- from the tender, budding feelings of a 13-year-old boy falling in love for the first time to the raw, crippling grief of a bereaved father -- felt vibrantly real. Lindqvist is also brilliant at creating fear and guilt, including guilt triggered by the ambivalence some parents feel toward their own children. This is largely what drew me in, eager to be part of the characters' lives, and what made this story work on a visceral level.

I was intrigued by the cast of quirky characters. This included a widowed young mother who survived through trading with World War II soldiers and occasional bootlegging, a professional magician, and a lighthouse keeper with an endless thirst for solitude who studies the Bible and greets visitors with the word of God -- because nothing drives people away as quickly as preaching at them.

I especially enjoyed the relationship between octogenarians Anna-Greta and Simon. It's rare -- at least in our culture -- to read about an intimate romance between two older people. I found this believable, interesting, and refreshing.

Lindqvist also captivated me with his elegant use of language and lovely imagery and the way he uses language and imagery to create an eerie mood. 

     The trees felled by the storm lay there like long-necked, thirsty dinosaurs, stretching out all the way to the water's edge ...
... the fallen fir trees were still there, dark, gloomy tree trunks lying across the rocks, with the odd branch sticking up out of the water here and there like the arms of skeletons pleading for help, ignored and rejected by one and all.
     The moon had begun to tire and shrink, balancing helplessly on the branches of the few firs still standing. Veils of cloud drifted past, and as Anders drew closer Kattholmen was bathed in a light with no luminosity, like aged aluminum. He rounded the northern point where a concrete buoy marked a shipping lane that was no longer used, and continued along the rocky shore on the eastern side of the island. (p. 448)

The only thing that disappointed me was the ending. Most of the novel moved rather slowly, with great attention to detail. I appreciated this, because it allowed time to develop the various threads of the story. But after all that, I expected a richly satisfying conclusion. However, the novel ended abruptly. The supernatural threads of the story were never completely woven together, and I was pushed quickly out of this world, without time to gain closure with the characters with whom I'd lived for 500 pages. Perhaps the author intended to leave us with a sense of mystery and unanswered questions? I don't know, but it didn't work for me.

Overall, this was an absorbing novel, and in some ways it was even richer than the author's previous books: Let the Right One In and Handling the Undead. The thing Lindqvist does best, seamlessly blending psychological and supernatural horror, is what really shines here. This created characters and scenes that will be hard for me to forget.

Read More Review of this Novel: Mad Bibliophile; Book Banter; Killin' Time Reading;

Rating: 4

5- Cherished Favorite4 - Keep in My Library3 - Good Read2 - Meh1 - Definitely Not
For Me

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