Friday, 14 October 2016

Review - Little Star, John Ajide Lindqvist

Oh, Gods, I shouldn't read Linqvist novels. Not because they aren't good - they're brilliant. Not because I don't enjoy them, because my Gods, I do, but because everyone else in my life could do without me vanishing into yet another tome, emerging only to snap that it would be nice if the people around me were... well, not around me... and finally coming out the other side, shell shocked, prone to dark reveries and really quite disturbing connections.

You will never look at baby food in the same way again.

Oooooooh, *rubs hands together* you can't really go wrong with Lindqvist - provided you don't mind gore, twisted characters, a uniquely Scandanavian bleakness, and rock music. He tells outsider stories in which you recognise just enough of yourself to think, there, but for the grace of God. If you had been that bit lonelier, if the bullies had come down that bit harder, if this lifeline had been snatched from you, or that one offered instead...

His characters are not likable, not honourable, but, oh, but, they can still be redeemed. The dark little strands of love which hold them together might just be strong enough. Or, if they could only break this run of bad luck then, maybe - maybe they can save themselves...

Little Star is very much about those hairs-breadth redemptions and damnations. Its about the doom you bring on yourself by taking babysteps into the ocean, each one so small, you do not notice them until you have gone too far to swim back, and then you realise that the tide is coming in. It's about those moments when your life veers off in a completely different path because of some random chance - as Lindqvist himself writes, "It's frightening to think how apparently insignificant events can influence the direction of our lives." If I had not opened the door then, if I'd crossed to the other side of the street, if, if, if...

A recurring theme in recent reviews is the way that it a writers humanity - rather than their inhumanity - that makes their work horrific. Lindqvist is a prime example of this and - in Little Star - something he manages admirably. You care for his characters - bitter, corrupt and morally questionable as they might be - because he is prepared to take their side, to give them sympathy, to let you see all the ways in which they are broken and struggling. Whether they commit or suffer terrible things, ir is something you must process upon a human level, rather than as part of a careless splatter-fest.

As to the plot? Oh, the plot is weird and disturbing and dark. Another thing I like about Lindqvist's books is the way his blurbs are written - giving away only enough to hook the reader's attention.
I don't want to spoil that with this review. All the same, taking on his usual themes of bullying, isolation and dysfunctional relationships, Little Star also branches out into the more contemporary themes of internet trolling and reality TV. He handles them beautifully, and gives the tired idea of the 'lone wolf' - beloved by online misogynists -  a deserved battering.

What makes this book for me, however, is its enduring mystery. Casually magically realist, Linqvist recognises that some things are not - and need not - be known. We see everything but the explantation, because that would break the power of his work. Instead, we follow slow, blinkered, methodical paths to the conlcusion which - when it comes - could have been prevented so easily, but which, with hindsight, seems inevitable.

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