When I finished John Ajvide Lindqvist’s debut novel Let the Right One In several years ago, I immediately flipped back to the beginning and started reading it all over again. That is the first, and last, time I can remember reading the same novel twice in a row. The offbeat vampire tale blew the door off Dracula’s coffin and Lindqvist’s bleak yet romantic storytelling solidified Let the Right One In as one of my top 5 horror novels of all time.
I was intent on reading anything and everything the Swedish author put out after that, but it wouldn’t be until Little Star was released in late 2012 from Thomas Dunne Books, two novels later, that I would delve into his horrific and brilliant world once again.
Little Star is the story of Theres, discovered as an abandoned baby in the woods by the aged and forgotten musician Lennart. He miraculously saves the child from near death and when she comes to she screams in “a single, clear, pure note” of E. Mesmerized by her fascinating tune, Lennart takes the child home and convinces his wife Lalia to let him keep her, though not without a fight. Drawn to her enigmatic voice and mysterious origins, the couple struggles to keep Theres a secret for fear of losing the child. Still, they can’t avoid the fact that there is an unsettling other-worldliness to Theres and the older she gets the more difficult it is to keep her, and her secret, hidden. Their situation is further complicated by their meddling, deadbeat son Jerry.
I just recently cracked open Andrew Solomon’s sociological examination of “Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity,” Far From the Tree, and was struck by an excerpt in the opening paragraph that offers equal insight into the psychology of Lindqvist’s would-be parents, Lennart and Lalia, and their foundling Theres.
We depend on the guarantee in our children’s faces that we will not die. Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not for the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do.
Like Solomon’s real-life parents, Lindqvist’s fictional parents, too, have selfish reasons for latching on to Theres. While Lennart and Lalia are not her biological parents, what starts as an act of kindness shifts to their need to use the child as an extension of themselves, pinning their musical hopes and dreams on Theres’ success. Lennart “didn’t want to believe that it was only by chance she had ended up with him. There had to be a purpose.” To Lennart, this is a second chance at recognition for his music through Theres, but also to accomplish with her what he couldn’t with Jerry. As such, it is poor Theres, and Jerry to some extent, that suffer from their vain desires, establishing Little Star in part as cautionary tale against parents treating children as an extension of themselves, like an accessory, albeit from an extreme perspective.
As he did in Let the Right One In, Lindqvist re-envisions the monster as a misunderstood innocent in a world of real life baddies. The adults in Linqvist’s world are the true threat, exacting horrific crimes against the children that exist in it. The reader can’t deny that what we have come to know as “monster” is the least threatening force in a Lindqvist story. Even Jerry, who slowly warms up to Theres, recognizes that “there’s something wrong inside your head. No question…;” however, I’m sure most readers would agree she poses no real danger to those who don’t deserve it.
Later in the story, we are introduced to admirer and friend to Theres, Theresa. Theresa becomes as integral to the novel as Theres, adding another dimension to the psychology of this tale. The story changes focus from the parent-child relationship to the search for one’s identity, mimicking adolescent development in its tonal shift.
Through Theresa we examine the confusion of adolescence, bullying, the phenomenon of instant celebrity, and the role of technology in all the above via social networking, YouTube, etc. None of her experiences are without cruelty and humiliation, that at times she doles out in equal measure, which all slowly build to the devastating and horrific climax.
The reader is not a passive observer to what happens in Little Star, neither are they disconnected from the characters’ plight. Lindqvist is masterful in gaining empathy from his readers in subtle yet effective ways. When Lennart first finds baby Theres in the forest, for example, Lindqvist uses a rustling plastic bag to illustrate the isolation he feels upon this discovery; “The forest surrounded him, silent and indifferent, and he was all alone in the world with whatever was in the plastic bag.” Later, during a particularly unsettling scene involving an inebriated Theresa and a blow job, Lindqvist, again, presents the scene in a way that demands empathy rather than detached disgust.
Little Star is a complicated, subtle horror novel that mixes dark fantasy with grim reality, it’s Lindqvist’s unique perspective on the world through a skewed lens. At only 532 pages, Little Star is still an epic story though not without a couple lulls along the way and those hoping for a definitive conclusion may be disappointed. But pacing and ending be damned, this book is a must for genre fans looking for an intense horror experience unlike anything they’ve read before. Lindqvist is a brilliant writer who gives his readers something to chew on and his haunting words linger long after the last page.
Lindqvist has been dubbed Sweden’s Stephen King. The description inside the dust jacket of Little Star even refers to the book as a “modern-day Carrie.” I would have to vehemently disagree with the comparison. Only time will tell if he will be as prolific, and while I agree he is equally talented, Lindqvist has a distinctive style that is indefinable. He isn’t the Stephen King of Sweden; he is the John Ajvide Lindqvist of Sweden. I’m sure any author would be thrilled with the comparison and why shouldn’t they be? After all, King is a household name. Yet I can’t help but wince at the number of times I see “Stephen King” in the blurbs scrawled across his books because to me, as a John Ajvide Linqvist fan, I say John Ajvide Lindqvist is the new voice of horror and it booms so loud you can hear it all the way from Sweden!
You can read his books to find out for yourself and you can find his work anywhere cool books are sold.
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Yeah, this was a good’un. Let the Right One In still tops my list of faves from his work, but it’s not like he’s disappointed yet. Looking forward to checking out his short story collection later in the year.
Me too! I saw that listed on Amazon a couple weeks ago.
Have not read Harbour or Handling the Undead yet though. Need to rectify that.
I read Let the Right One In and loved it. I agree, he doesn’t seem at all like Stephen King. I remember once they were calling Clive Barker, the new Stephen King, and he’s not like Stephen King either.
Looking Forward to Little Star. Thanks for the excellent review.
It’s so frustrating. The other day I pulled out a book off my shelf with proclamations of “Britain’s answer to Stephen King.” Can’t recall what author now, but not a King-a-like. Every talented horror writer is not King!
I hope you read LITTLE STAR. Please stop by and post your thoughts here in the comment section or find me on http://www.the-mortuary.com in the Psychopedia Necronomicon thread 🙂