One ordinary winter afternoon on a snowy island, 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 they are exploring the lighthouse, Maja disappears – either into thin air or under thin ice – leaving not even a bloody footprint in the snow.
Two years later, Anders a broken man, moves back to his family’s abandoned home on the island. He soon realizes that Maja’s disappearance is only one if many strange occurrences, and that his fellow islanders, including his own grandmother, know a lot more than they’re telling. As he digs deeper, Anders begins to unearth a dark and deadly secret at the heart of this small, seemingly placid town.
Harbor was an intriguing novel. When I started it, I was a little apprehensive, as I was afraid I would be too scared – remember, I’m a wimp when it comes to reading horror – but while thrilling and frightening, it didn’t give me nightmares. Instead its horror started with a creeping feeling of unease, of something off and, slowly, the true threat only becomes fully clear towards the end. I found myself eager to return to its pages each night and read until I had to turn off the light due to my eyes falling closed.
One of my favourite elements of this novel were the narrative structure and Lindqvist’s prose. The book is set up in a double narration with switching points of view between Anders and his grandfather Simon, with interspersed breaking of the fourth wall by an unknown narrator and short pieces from the point of view of other Domarö inhabitants. I love these kinds of twined narratives, as they provide not just a way for the author to give us more information about what’s going – as the saying goes: two heads always know more than one – but they also provide opportunities for miscommunication or non-communication between characters, where the reader knows more than the protagonists. Coincidentally, it can also lead to a frustrated outcry of “Why don’t they just talk to each other?”, but Lindqvist never falls in that trap. Yes, there is non-communication, but he allows Simon to decisively put an end to that. Lindqvist’s prose, through the translation of Marlaine Delargy, is clean and clear; no purple prose here, though his descriptions of the stark and isolated landscapes and the small island community are lovely, if at times chilling.
I loved the character of Anders and I found the way Lindqvist describes his dealing with the loss of his daughter fascinating. The idea of losing one of my children – I’m already counting B2 as such, even if she isn’t born yet – or my husband is my biggest nightmare and I thought Lindqvist dealt with both the madness of grief and the reshaping of memories beautifully. Anyone can picture what grief can drive someone too, whether drinking, like Anders, drugs, depression or self-harm. But I found Anders’ reshaping his memories of Maja far more poignant, especially his inability to realise that he’s done so until he’s confronted about it by his grandparents. I think it’s also something a lot of people don’t realise—both that this is a natural reaction and that they’ve probably done the same with some of their own memories. All of this combined makes it hard to figure out whether what Anders thinks he’s experiencing is true or whether they are delusions he’s suffering due to too much alcohol consumption or grief.
The other main narrator is Anders’ sort of grandfather. He’s been together with Anders’ grandmother Anna-Greta for fifty years, though they never got married and is as much a grandfather as Anders has ever known. Despite having lived on Domarö for over half a century and being partnered with the unofficial leader of the island, Simon is still an outsider in many ways, as he finds out when he discovers the island’s secret. But Simon is also more than just an old, retired stage magician, he has real magic, though what kind and how he came by it, is something best left for the reader to discover themselves. I really liked Simon, he is kind, strong and tenacious and I loved his relationship with Anna-Greta.
Domarö and the sea are characters in and of themselves and are maybe the most frightening things in the book. Water can be the most destructive force on earth. It is everywhere and can penetrate everywhere. Water is patient and we humans cannot live without it. The Dutch have learnt to live with the fear of the encroaching water, to literally dam it out and in some ways to harness its amazing power, but we also know that water cannot be tamed and must always be respected. The inhabitants of Domarö respect and fear the sea in the same way, but in their need to placate the sea, they takes desperate and gruesome measures.
Harbor is a stunning story, which made for compelling reading. If you are looking for an intelligent, spooky and mostly non-gory horror tale, this third offering by Lindqvist is just the ticket. I know this first taste of his writing has left me curious for more. I have already read Niall’s review of Lindqvist’s latest book Little Star and that sounds as good or even better as Harbor and I look forward to checking that out in the future.
This book was sent to me for review by the publisher.