A Novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
(2010) 2011 / 480 Pages
The Setup: When embittered ex-pop-star Lennart Cederström finds a baby left for dead in a plastic bag, he is uncertain what to do—until he hears her cry. It is a clear, haunting, perfectly pitched note, and Lennart decides she will be his project. A child raised in isolation: the vehicle for a pure, uncorrupted music.
But like anyone brought up in a basement, young Theres turns out to have a few idiosyncrasies.
The best-selling author of Let the Right One In delivers a massively entertaining satire on the Idol phenomenon, laced with just the right amount of violence. And introduces the oddest couple of outsider anti-heroines in contemporary literature. (from the hardcover edition)
Back in August of this year I hesitantly added Little Star to my “Five Books I Can’t Wait to Read in 2011” list and boldly proclaimed:
This could be the title that finally decides, once and for all, if he’s [Lindqvist] really the Swedish Stephen King or if perhaps instead he’s merely the Swedish Dean Koontz. Being praised for simply being good will no longer be tolerated.
I said this because after the massive success of his debut novel, Let the Right One In, Lindqvist delivered two rather uneven follows up efforts in Handling the Undead and Harbour, the latter of which was the first of his novels to be translated by CWA International Dagger award winner Marlaine Delargy.
Delargy’s translation was the lone bright spot and seemed to mark a turning point, because even though Harbour didn’t contain the most compelling plot, it was filled with descriptions of brilliant characters and gorgeous settings that leapt off the page and were infused with life in a way that was previously missing from Lindqvist’s his work. Her name, plus his former success got Little Star onto my “can’t wait” list, but fear of it being another uneven dud story wise would strand it there for almost half a year before I’d finally crack it open and begin reading. My mistake.
In a way, the novel shares some similarities to Let the Right One In, in that it deals with the tricky connection between two young teenagers of the same sex who believe themselves to be outsiders, bonded together to insulate themselves from those that have deemed them outcasts because of their social awkwardness. Just like Eli the vampire and the young boy Oscar before them, the relationship between the two girls at the center of Little Star’s story, Theres and Theresa, is made more difficult by the presence of feelings of a romantic nature that are bubbling just below the surface.
It seems that Lindqvist feels right at home navigating the complex and sticky pathways of the rapidly changing teenage brain. Where other authors would have failed to make either girl seem realistic to the reader by simply being content to introduce the girls as messed up anomalies who just don’t fit into the system, he instead expends a tremendous amount of effort pinpointing and capturing the unique essence of their isolation and excels at conveying it to the reader in a way that makes them empathize with their plight. Some might claim that this loving attention to detail could be labeled as a form of over characterization, but the time spent here, building backstory and planting red flags amongst the fertile soil of their adolescence, truly lays the groundwork for follows. Without it, the novel’s largest moments wouldn’t have any impact and would run the risk of leaving the reader numb. In fact, with the level of desensitization that exists in today’s society, the bridge Lindqvist builds between the characters he introduces and their eventual actions as a direct result of their treatment isn’t just welcome, it’s damn near required.
Fully realized, the complexity that’s interwoven into the DNA of Theres and Theresa’s relationship is smartly answered by examining the most basic of human needs. We all want to be accepted, to fit in, to be loved. What happens when we’re not? Lindqvist satires American Idol (or Swedish Idol if you please), taking the literal meaning of the word idol:
A person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered.
and using it to the extreme. After being denied for so long, when we finally find that attachment we seek, how far will we go to defend it? How blind will we become to its inherent danger? How much of ourselves will we sacrifice to not have to feel empty; to feel like we belong?
To answer the initial question I posed months ago about whether John Ajvide Lindqvist would prove to be the Swedish equivalent to Stephen King or Dean Koontz, I think with Little Star, he’s once again proven that he belongs in the King discussion. He’s mastered characterization, he’s got a keen eye not just for what works in terms of suspense, gore, and super natural hocus pocus, but also a focus on how it can be spun into something that’s socially conscious and politically aware. Lindqvist’s isn’t content with his writing being horrific simply because it can. He provides a glimpse into an alternate timeline that showcases what we would all easily become as the result of one seemingly inconsequential wrong turn.
He’s delivering the warnings; we just need to read the signs.