Saturday, 13 August 2011

"Harbour" by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Year of Publication: 2008
Number of Pages: 650 pages
Genre: Horror, supernatural, drama

Summary: Every year Anders and his wife Cecilia and six year old daughter Maja go on holiday to the island of Dommaro off the coast of Sweden, where Anders and Cecilia spent summers as children. However tragedy strikes when Maja vanishes in plain sight and in broad daylight. No trace of her is found and there is nowhere she could have fallen or hidden, it is simply as if she disappeared.
Two years later, Anders' life has fallen apart. Divorced from his wife and drinking heavily, he is lost in guilt and self-pity. Finally realising that he has hit rock bottom, he returns to Dommaro where his grandfather Simon, a one-time magician, still lives.
Returning to his old holiday home, Anders attempts to find out once and for all what happened to his daughter. However, he quickly comes to believe that Maja's still there and trying to communicate with him. However, Dommaro, which has a long and disturbing history of strange occurances and disappearances, is plagued by bizarre happenings as malevolent ghostly figures cruise around on mopeds, mysterious acts of arson flare up all over the island, and the residents begin to act in increasingly strange and violent ways.
Anders and Simon soon find themselves pitted against a powerful and ancient force lurking in the waters around the island. A force which demands sacrifice.

Summary: This is the third novel by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist to be translated into English following Let the Right One In (2004) and Handling the Undead (2006). After dealing with vampires and zombies in his previous works, Lindqvist here deals with old superstitions and traditions dealing with the sea, as well as ghosts and spirits.
The main narrative of the book covers a number of weeks but is full of flashbacks, and digressions. It has a pretty epic scope and covers a large number of events and characters. The main flaw with the novel is that not all of the digressions and sub plots work and some of it take away from the pace of the novel. Mostly however it works well and the novel is a tense and at times genuinely chilling piece of work. Many of Lindqvist's characters and events are pretty memorable, with the ghosts riding mopeds and talking in quotes from The Smiths being a special standout (Lindqvist himself is a huge Morrissey fan).
Lindqvist has been described as "the Swedish Stephen King" which isn't really very fair, because his style and plots are very much his own. What he does share with King though is a real feel for the rhythms of daily life and an understanding of character.
Delivering traditional gothic horror thrills, with a uniquely contemporary Scandinavian flavour, Lindqvist is one of the most important new writers to emerge in the field of horror in the past decade and is well worth checking out, if you haven't already.


  1. Like I mentioned on LJ, I'm still not sure what I think about this book. I liked your review though! The Smiths quoting ghosts were definitely one of the highlights for me too. They were creepy and sad at the same time. The part with Elin and her plastic surgery was also quite disturbing. I really wish I'd enjoyed Harbour more when I think about it. ;)

  2. Thanks! There were a lot of elements that I really liked about the book, but the main problem for me was the number of tangents and sub-plots that didn't always work. I don't think it was quite as good as either "Handling the Undead" or "Let the Right One In"