In Let the Right One In, Lindqvist wrote a fresh take on vampires that could stand alongside Dracula in a book-world overrun with vampires. In Handling the Undead, he reinvented zombies completely; they rose from an electrical storm, not a virus, and they shuffled around like real living dead rather than chasing after flesh. With his newest novel, Harbor, he assures his place as a master of horror alongside the likes of Stephen King.
I didn’t like Harbor as much as his first two novels but that’s not to say I didn’t like it. I did. It just didn’t strike the same immediate chord with me as his other works. For instance, Handling the Undead is largely about grief and letting go, something personally relevant to me at the time I read it, as my father had just passed away. But it was scary, haunting, and engaging.
Harbor takes place in a small town built on a tiny island in Sweden called Domaro, next to a smaller island that houses a light house. It’s a community where everyone knows everyone, except for the Summer tourists, who come and go with the seasons. During some winters, the waters freeze and they can ski over over to the light house.
One day, Anders and his wife Cecilia take their daughter Maja out to the light house. She’s six years old, in a red snow suit, and it’s a lovely day, until Maja vanishes without a trace. Her tracks stop suddenly in the snow and there’s no sign of her. She’s never seen again. Anders and Cecilia split up due to the pressures of losing their child. Two years later, trying to fight his demons and alcoholism, Anders moves back to the island, where his grandmother also resides.
The story is told over generations with little events and a strange history that show something supernatural or at least weird is afoot on Domaro. Other people have vanished on the island, and weird things start happening. Because it deals with ghosts and history, the story moves back and forth throughout time to give the reader the entire picture of life on the island and what’s caused this weird anomaly where the Ocean has such fiendish powers. It can feel a bit chaotic. I like that kind of storytelling when it works, and I feel it does, but I can see why people might get annoyed with it and put it aside.
Anders sees signs that someone else has been in his little cottage, but never sees anyone. He becomes obsessed with finding Maja, although he hasn’t got clues. The ensemble cast includes Simon, a retired illustionist who has a secret of his own (Simon is my favorite character, hands down, and not just because I picture him as GOB–he’s far more competent. Also, this book mentions The Final Countdown although the scene it plays during is not funny. Someone send Lindqvist Arrested Development DVDs, stat.). And Ander’s grandmother, Anna-Greta, who knows more than she originally lets on.
Lindqvist indulges his love of Morrissey and the Smiths, by having teenagers who run around quoting them instead of speaking, and manages to twist that into something scary as well. It’s cool that he can take figures that are familiar to most of us and make them dark and frightening.
It’s Lindqvist’s take on a small town horror conspiracy. It works, but it lacks the mind-blowing reinvention he’s known in the US for. I hope they continue to translate his novels into English, and I hope he keeps writing.