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 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 of 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.
As he did with Let the Right One In and Handling the Undead, John Ajvide Lindqvist serves up a blockbuster cocktail of high-tension suspense in a narrative that barely pauses for breath.
John Ajvide Lindqvist has quickly become one of my all time favourite authors, and this is only cemented by my experience with Harbor. In this truly terrifying epic, Lindqvist focuses not on vampires or zombies (as in his two previous novels) but the ocean. With the dry but authentic prose of King, and with a primaeval, hulking antagonist, Harbor is an exploration of how scary the sea can be. Get ready, put your goggles on, and dive in.
Welcome to Domarö, a small archipelago just far away enough from the hustle and bustle of Stockholm. Within this tight-knit community, everyone has their role, so when a devastating loss occurs, the impact is felt far and wide. Anders’ life takes a sharp and decidedly grim turn, when he and his family take a trip over the frozen sea to the island’s lighthouse. His six year old daughter Maya, sees something mysterious, goes out to explore… and promptly disappears without a trace. Her small footsteps are briefly visible, before vanishing. There are no breaks in the ice, no mysterious suspects, nowhere she could have gone.
The loss of Maja drives Anders and his wife apart, and pushes him into alcoholism. Two years later, certain Maya is still out there, Anders makes his return to Domarö. Can Anders navigate his way back to his daughter, and make sense of the island’s mysterious history?
As aforementioned, the writing is highly reminiscent of King, and in fact Lindqvist is often referred to as the Swedish version of the master storyteller. Not only is the writing very similar, but Harbor also employs some dark fantasy elements. Yes, Lindqvist’s writing has the bonus of King’s undisputedly AWESOME story-telling, and true-to-life dialogue, but also shares a flaw… to put it frankly dear reader: it goes on a bit. With my copy coming in at exactly 650 pages, it’s not unreasonable to argue that perhaps a thorough edit is needed.
That is (in my eyes) redeemed by the characters though. The reader follows Anders tightrope walk the line between suicide and redemption throughout, and whilst his instability is unfortunate to read about, it’s clearly utilised by Lindqvist to flex his writing muscles. We watch him flit between restlessness and morbidity almost constantly, a character study that makes us question how we would cope under similar circumstances. How do we deal with grief? Is it healthy?
The other major character (in my opinion anyway) is the ocean itself. Harbor is not a book for readers with even a slight case of thalassophobia. It is not a book I would want to read by the coast, near a lake, and in fact, even the bath-tub briefly seemed like a mild threat. Lindqvist employs the Lovecraftian tactic (as seen in Denizens of Innsmouth) of presenting the sea as not just sentient, but dastardly and cunning too- a pretty solid obstacle for Anders to overcome.
To conclude, Harbor is a continuation of the high-quality and truly terrifying writing I have seen from Lindqvist so far. He cohesively blends the un-natural, the supernatural and the completely ordinary to create a chilling and compelling narrative, that has the depth of the ocean, and forces the reader to reconsider taking a beach vacation this year. I hope Lindqvist continues to make waves within the horror genre.