John Adjvide Lindqvist
Thomas Dunne Books (2011)
In Harbor, it seems to me that Lindqvist does for ghosts what he did for vampires in Let the Right One In; taking the well-worn genre, hanging it on the clothesline, and batting the dust out of it with a stick. But, if that was his aim, did it work?
Set against the rustic, hard-bitten backdrop of Domaro, an island that's part of an archipelago off the coast of Sweden, Anders and his wife and daughter go out for a walk one morning to tour the lighthouse on a neighboring island. After hiking across the ice, however, his daughter disappears, feared to have fallen through the ice. But the ice is so thick, it's a wonder how that would be possible, yet she is gone all the same. Two years later, divorced and a drunkard, Anders returns to Domaro to get his life together. Instead, he becomes enmeshed in a mystery concerning a specter that may or may not be his daughter, and a history to the island that demands secrecy from the island's residents--including Anders' grandmother.
The evocative imagery is a real strong suit in Lindqvist's writing. There are moments when you can feel the cold biting into your skin. I recall some cold, bleak moments in Let the Right One In, but this book is practically cold to the touch. And the supernatural aspects of the novel offered some unsettling, off-key notes to a very sad song.
The way in which the story delves back into both Anders' childhood, as well as Simon's (the long-time lover of Anders' grandmother), can be a bit disorienting at times. It focus of the story takes a while to hone in, as scenes act as precursors. Actually, as I read the book I found Simon's side of the story even more intriguing than Anders'. Simon is a retired illusionist and escape artist, who bought a house on Domaro to keep his drug-addicted lover away from temptation. It doesn't work though, and she eventually leaves him, but he stays on the island and falls in love with Anna-Greta, Anders' grandmother, when Anders is a young boy. During his time on the island he finds a creature called a Spritus, which is some kind of folkloric critter that is straight out of some legend I've never heard of. It's like a little slug that can give its owner some extraordinary gifts--or curses, depending on how you look at it.
The creepy factor really amps up in the last hundred pages, and that's about as close to a spoiler as I dare spill. I think some might find it a bit off from everything that comes before it, but at the end of the book, I thought it worked and had me mulling it over for the rest of the night after I set the book down.
I really enjoyed this book. And if Lindqvist really did want to find a new way to approach the "haunted" trope, he succeeded with flying colors. There are moments were it's engrossing, disturbing, and a little disorienting when you least expect it. It's not as spellbinding as Let the Right One In, and I suppose it's a bit unfair to compare the two since the tone and subject matter is dissimilar, but I can't help it. But to say I didn't like this book as much is like saying I don't like ice-cream cones as much as I like ice-cream sundaes--Dude, it's still ice-cream!