Harbor Hardcover – Oct 11 2011
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“Like Stephen King, Lindqvist makes deft use of contemporary pop culture.... Like King, Lindqvist is a master at evoking the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small, self-contained community whose denizens are as cursed by their own history as by the uncanny, terrifying events of the present.” ―The Washington Post
“John Ajvide Lindqvist is rightly seen as one of the most exciting writers working in the horror genre at the moment – a rival, indeed, to Stephen King.” ―The Scotsman
“A spooky pleasure, expertly told.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Enthralling dark fantasy.” ―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST is the author of Handling the Undead and international sensation Let the Right One In, which has been made into critically acclaimed films in both Sweden and the United States (as Let Me In). The Swedish film based on the book, for which Lindqvist wrote the screenplay, won top honors at the Tribeca Film Festival, as well as at film festivals around the globe. Of the American film, Stephen King commented, "Let Me In is a genre-busting triumph. Not just a horror film, but the best American horror film in the last twenty years...Rush to it now. You can thank me later."
Lindqvist became an author after careers as a magician and as a stand-up comic. He has also written for television. His books are published in twenty-nine countries; he lives in Sweden.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The author has an amazing ability to create something new from myth. He also has some suspenseful moments that kept me on my toes and a few shocking ones that had me re-reading passages just to make sure 'that actually happened'. Though this one didn't compare to the others I will still be eager to pick up his next novel. John Ajvide Lindqvist is very talented and I look forward to what he might tackle next.
Full review at The Reader's Hollow: [...]
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And finished about twelve hours later.
"Harbor" is a highly atmospheric, original horror novel that has done something remarkable: even after you realize what the monster, the terror of the novel, is (this occurs about halfway through) I didn't think, "oh, that's what it is" or "oh, that's ridiculous" or "oh, the mystery's out, why am I still reading?"
That delightful anxiety produced by good horror ratcheted up another notch or two, and I thought, "What on earth are they supposed to do NOW?!?!"
Exactly what they do carries beautifully through the rest of the book. Not once did I feel bored, or let down by the object of horror here. Don't get me wrong, it had the potential to be so incredibly, ridiculously stupid. But Lindqvist turned it, "Night of the Living Dead" style, into a "no matter what they do, they're dead."
Another testament to Lindqvist's talent: he makes a major, god-in-the-machine plot line involving what is essentially a magic slug work. And not just work, but work amazingly. I still don't see how this works. It shouldn't be interesting. It should ruin the book, or at least be a line we impatiently skim over. But no. It's every bit as good as the rest of the book.
In a nutshell, the story itself is fabulous. The translation is excellent. I'm going to use the word "atmospheric" yet again. A pervasive sense of dread begins on the second page and doesn't let up once. "Harbor" builds slowly but steadily, til you're fidgeting with anxiety. All of the major characters are believable and well-drawn. For the first time in a lot of books, I had the sense I was reading about people, not just characters, down to the fact that he makes his quite average, bratty little daughter out to be an angel by the time she's been missing for two years.
As for cons, there are very few. Occasionally, the flashbacks pull you out of the story briefly (but that happened only rarely, and the flashbacks were otherwise fabulous). The ending (which I LOVED) will doubtless be seen by some as "too easy". Apart from that, and the fact that Anders was, at times, suspiciously clueless about what was happening on the island he'd spent most of his life on, I can't complain. "Harbor" was a fabulous novel, and I can already tell you I'm going to read it again.
In 2004, a little girl named Maja disappears while visiting a lighthouse with her parents, Anders and Cecelia. Her disappearance on the small, isolated island of Domarö is impossible to explain. When Anders returns to the island a couple of years later, a series of eerie events suggest that Maja is trying to contact him. Anders later learns that Maja is not the first island resident to have disappeared, and that the island harbors secrets from generations past.
Anders is one primary character; another is Simon, an aging magician and escape artist who has lived on Domarö for years. In 1996, Simon pledges himself to a Spiritus, a dark little creature that resembles a centipede. When Simon drools on the Spiritus, he gains some of its life force; holding the Spiritus in his hand empowers Simon. Despite Simon's connection to the island, its life-long residents have kept a secret from him: the secret of the sea. It is the secret that animates the novel and that Anders must eventually understand if he is to make sense of Maja's disappearance.
As the plot develops, John Ajvide Lindqvist surrounds his characters with menacing images: a cardboard cutout of an ice cream man seems vaguely sinister; the wind-swept sea conveys a feeling of dread; the distant growl of a moped signals danger. Even swans are best avoided on Domarö. This is artful storytelling.
Unfortunately the images of horror are more interesting than the actual horror. The problem, I think, is that there are just too many different manifestations of evil: the dead return to life in ghost-like fashion, the living are possessed in zombie-like fashion, a malevolent force dwells in the deep ... the riot of horror themes becomes a bit much, particularly with the addition of the Spiritus. While the Spiritus is the most imaginative of the supernatural forces at play in Harbor, its existence (and the role it plays at the novel's end) is almost too convenient. Having voiced that small complaint, however, I must give Lindqvist credit for tying it all together at the novel's end.
Harbor works best as a novel of psychological horror -- the horror not just of losing a child, but of a parent's realization that he never really knew his child. As a tale of supernatural horror, the novel is creative but not particularly frightening. The lengthy story is nonetheless entertaining. There are stories within stories in this unusual novel: stories of smuggling and stagecraft and love and Nordic adventure. Often the stories provide background, explaining, for instance, why two kids who went missing came to be treated as island outcasts and how Anders' father died. The stories of individuals confronting fears and hardships in an isolated environment showcase Lindqvist at his best, and provide sufficient reason to read Harbor.
This is a long book and is not for those who cannot be patient. The author slowly pulls the reader into the book through the lives of many different characters on a small Swedish island. We are told of how they met, who they married, their memories of their own lives and of other people in their lives. These stories were interesting enough that I would have kept reading for them alone but once in a while, when we least see it coming, the author gives us a glimpse of something lurking behind all these people and their lives, something dark and eerie and incomprehensible.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I gave it four stars rather than five only because I felt that the author unfortunately brought in a few too many characters, some of whom didn't work for me and who caused a break in the creepy atmosphere of dread that the author had so carefully built up. I wish that he had edited out pages 174-243, in particular; those teenaged memories of the 1980's and the characters introduced there seemed quite irrelevant. Aside from that I think that the author did a fine job. If you like horror from an author who makes you think a little while he scares you, try this. Yes, it's slow but then so is being suffocated by a boa constrictor. Wouldn't that scare you?
I have a conclusion now. The answer is no.
Why? Well...(1) If I have to mull over it, that tells me something. (2) I asked myself: "Does this book make me want to buy the author's other books?" The answer is "No."
So, no, I reckon I did not like the book, but it has plenty of good things going for it. A review quote on the back equates Lindqvist to Stephen King. I'm not crazy about King, so I might not be the best person to review "Harbor."
But here goes. Good things first. Lindqvist has a knack for setting. For creepiness. Some of the scenarios in the book are downright delicious. Also, this book depends heavily on back story (which is good and bad). I estimate about 2/3 is written in back story, and 1/3 in present time. Most of the time, this works. When it does not work, though, the story drags. Plus, in the 1/3 "present time" good space was devoted to minor characters and their actions. I didn't care about them. More dragging. At one point a bit past halfway, I was tempted to call it a day. No more reading. No finishing the book. I forced myself to finish, though, and the book picked up again soon after that.
The story summary purports that this book will be about a girl's disappearance. It is not. It is about an island, about a town. The girl is only one little piece, so that may be part of why I disliked the book. I entered the book expecting one thing and came out with something different (something I hadn't wanted to read about).
Bottom line: Lindqvist throws in too much. He has an underlying "monster" (monster for lack of a better word -- perhaps villain or boogeyman would be better, but the bad guy is not even a guy. Or anything resembling a person). Halfway through, two ghosts pop up, and we're introduced to their characters' back stories. Halfway through! That for me is too late to introduce characters of such import. A lot of other stuff is thrown in, scattered about, and it got to be too much.
Also (and I have this issue with King often), the underlying logic just did not work for me. I was like... "Huh? Okay..."
The ending was very disappointing.
I suppose if you like Stephen King, you'll like "Harbor" too.
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.