Author: Tim Davys
Published: HarperCollins (2010); originally published in Sweden (2008)
Genre: Noir; Thriller
I'm starting to think Swedish authors are en vogue right now in the literary world. It's not an onslaught, mind you, but there seems to be a growing appetite in North America for Sweden's most promising writers. Tim Davys appears to be the latest, although the name is a pseudonym I believe the writer's nationality is authentic. But instead of girls with dragon tattoos a la Stieg Larsson, or littler girls drinking blood to survive a la John Lindqvist, Davys's focus is on characters that are a bit more plush--literally.
Lanceheim is the second novel from Davys set in the stuffed animal universe of Mollisan Town, with Amberville being his debut and two more novels to follow. Rather than a sequel, this book is a companion--part of a quartet--to the other three novels with only a shared setting, but a separate focus on a particular theme--this book approaching the ideas of faith and loss.
Reuben Walrus--and, yes, he's a stuffed animal in the form of a walrus--is an aging composer in a race against time to finish his latest symphony. It's a race, not only because the symphony is unfinished yet schedule to debut in less than a month, but because Reuben is going deaf. Dreading the inevitable, he becomes desperate and begins to hear rumors of a strange stuffed animal named Maximilian that is known to cure others.
A second narrative is told through the point of view of Wolf Diaz--a wolf, you guessed it--the childhood friend and longtime companion of Maximilian, as he regales readers with the story of his own and Max's upbringing and ultimate persecution for being so darned different. Maximilian is discovered as an infant in a secluded area and adopted by one of Wolf's grade teachers. Max is different because no one can place what animal he's supposed to be, and his stitching is practically invisible. It becomes apparent to readers fairly quickly if they read between the lines just what little--not so little as he actually grows over the years--Maximilian's true nature is.
The story itself, with the two parallel storylines, feels a bit laggard at times, especially when it comes to Reuben's story. That's quite possibly a bias on my part though, as I didn't find the ordeal of a composer losing his hearing all that interesting, nor Reuben to be all that sympathetic. I found myself far more interested in Maximilian's adventures and his nearly satirical Zen state as he attracts devotees to his cryptic parables.
I also found the conceit of using stuffed animals rather than humans to fall away more often than not. There is a smattering of novel scenes that show these plushy protagonists in their anthropomorphic goodness, but most of the time I felt like the story might have worked as well--or better--if they were human. Granted, the concept of newborns arriving and the elderly being collected via ominous trucks that arrive in town to be a welcome device.
The fact that these are stuffed animals is simply a veneer, however, and the important part is the story. As far as that goes, it was a okay read. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, I know, but I felt it was stronger on one of the separate storylines through the first half of the book--Wolf's first person account over Reuben's third person--and I had to wait longer than I'd expected for the two streams to melt into one. I'll be going back to read the first book, Amberville, later in the summer to see if the bigger picture comes into focus for me with Davys's intent with these books. One thing I think is certain is that Lanceheim and its stuffed animals will do as much to confound readers as comfort.