Book Title: HARBOUR
Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Publisher: Text Publishing
No of Pages: 500
On a winter trip home to the island of Domarö, Anders and Cecilia take their six-year-old daughter Maja across the ice to visit the lighthouse at Gåvasten.
And Maja disappears. Leaving not even a footprint in the snow.
Two years later, alone and more or less permanently drunk, Anders returns to Domarö to confront his despair. He slowly realises that Maja’s disappearance is not the first inexplicable tragedy to strike the islanders. Nor is everyone telling him all they know; even his own mother, it seems, is keeping secrets.
And what is it about the sea? There’s something very bad happening on Domarö. Something that involves the sea itself.
I say I'm not much of a fan of paranormal books, but as with all of my absolute declarations on reading matters, there is an author out there who is destined to blow my prejudices out of the water. John Ajvide Lindqvist is one of those authors. Since the first of his books LET THE RIGHT ONE IN became an all-time favourite of mine, I've looked forward to each new release. HARBOUR, released last year, is a book I've been champing at the bit to read, but it should come with a warning - once picked up, mesmerising. I couldn't put it down. And it's a big book at 500 pages, so you might want to make sure that you've got supplies in before you start.
What starts out as a seemingly innocuous trip across the ice to the local lighthouse, ends with the vanishing of six-year-old Maja. Seemingly in the blink of her parent's eyes, she was there and now she's not. Despite extensive searches she's vanished. No footprints in the snow, no sound, no sight, no sign. Anders, her father, falls apart. His marriage fractures, his life stops. And two years later, he returns to the island to attempt to confront the despair, to drag himself out of spiralling downward trend of alcohol and hopelessness that his life has become. He returns to an island seemingly unchanged, to his grandmother and her partner, to a small, sheltered, enclosed community with secrets.
The paranormal aspects of HARBOUR surface fairly quickly after Anders returns to the island, and again I've found myself wondering what it is about this author that makes that work for me. Partially I think it's a lot to do with the suspense that Lindqvist builds into the story that he's telling. There are definitely aspects of a thriller about this book, as Anders tries again to discover what happened to his beloved Maja. There's also a wonderful ability to simply tell a story. This book weaves the tales of Maja, Anders, his grandmother and her magician partner into the story of the island community seamlessly. There is also a breathtaking sense of raw and honest human emotion, mixed up into the paranormal. There is profound emotion in Anders - regret, sadness, recrimination, grief, resentment and anger, but most of all unconditional love. Other characters often reflect or contrast aspects of his emotional state - but the islanders also demonstrate secrecy, protectiveness, deceit. Through it all, even through the realisation that perfection is often in the eye of the beholder, the pace of the story builds as does the pace of Anders' discoveries, understanding, and ultimately acceptance that his daughter may not have been all that he chose to see, but she remains exactly who he chooses to love.
Interestingly, unlike other books in this category that I've really struggled with, the paranormal aspect in this one appeared integral to the story - supporting the environment; part of the emotion, the culture, the area, the people. There was no sense that the paranormal was the "story" in its own right.
It is really that overwhelming sense of a story being told that works so well in HARBOUR, supported by raw, glorious emotion. Regardless of the hows, wheres or whys of what happens to the characters in the book; how they interact with the places, what sense of the "other" is bought to the reader's experience; there is a story underlying this that talks about humanity. Unconditional love in a struggle with the need to understand, explain, justify and absolve. The way that grief can control some, and is a catalyst for others. The nature of faith and love and meaning, and the consequences of all of them. Regardless of how much of the paranormal you are comfortable with, HARBOUR is a stark, beautiful, moving, confronting, sad, lyrical and emotional book.