Albert Bonniers förlag, 2007. ISBN: 9789100116040
Reviewed by Teresia Quinn in SBR 2008:2
English Translation: The Hurricane Party, translated by Tiina Nunnally. Canongate, 2009. ISBN 9781847672582.
Klas Östergren was once invited to participate in an ambitious international writing project, where publishers asked their most successful authors to write a highly personal story based on a mythology of their own choice. His choice was unsurprisingly taken from the Nordic mythology and he used the story of Loke – the giant who lived together with the gods at Asgård – as a basis for his story. I would strongly recommend a look at Nordic mythology and then especially Loke, if you are not yet familiar with these stories, as Orkanpartyt is much more enjoyable if you can recognise the gods and their characteristics.
Although Östergren’s book is based on the Old Norse tales, I found that ultimately it is a book about love and forgiveness. The absolute thread through the whole book is the main character Hanck Orn’s devotion to his son and his despair at the cruel murder of this boy. It is set in the future, in an Orwellian nightmare of a divided society where the rich and powerful have withdrawn to a walled and covered town, from where the Clan (read Asa gods) rule over all and sundry.
Hanck lives in The City – a violent place where multiple locks are used to defend one’s home, and where people are getting increasingly desperate. Most are illiterate and the main form of entertainment is a TV reality show depicting TomBola, an obscene giant of a woman, who spends her day in bed and records a video diary of her life. She is like an enormous female spider in that she spends each night with a different man – the winner of a popular monthly competition. Huge amounts of money are spent betting on whether the winner will survive the night. In Big Brother fashion the lucky survivors become D-list celebrities in their own right. There is one other form of entertainment which is a never-ending concert held in the main Church. This concert has lasted centuries and consists of one long note boomed out over the city 24 hours a day. It hardly ever changes, and people await every new note with almost hysterical anticipation.
The climate has changed and vicious storms rage during the rainy season. There is life outside The City but it is virtually impossible to get out there, and very little is known about it. Rumours are rife and although work parties are sent there every so often, the Clan makes sure to keep this area out of bounds.
Hanck’s life revolves around his son. He is a single father and has made up wonderful stories about the son’s mother – stories containing few facts. Hanck is actually a very normal man, going about his everyday business, and unlike many others because he has this overriding love for his child, he can cope with almost anything in the difficult circumstances of his world. Inevitably the adored boy grows up and leaves home to work in a restaurant situated in the archipelago. The Clan is holding a meeting there and this is where mythology comes in – Östergren effortlessly weaves the Old Norse characters into the story and creates a believable background to the awful crime which is committed at that meeting.
Because of this crime Hanck takes it on himself to seek out the restaurant, to find answers to his questions and to stop feeling so awfully helpless. He bravely makes his way there, gets to know the staff and his journey ends with a visit to the Land of the Dead (which quite amusingly is pictured as a badly run hospital ward) where he finds his answers.
I found Östergren’s novel very entertaining. I especially liked the way that he so smoothly made the gods into a Mafia-like clan – kissing each other on the one hand, stabbing each other in the back on the other. Östergren eases up on the control he shows in the beginning of the book and lets his gods run riot in the middle, but he collects himself and lets Hanck back into the story to pick up the thread yet again. Hanck’s touching devotion to his son creates a wonderful frame to what is essentially a crime story, which makes the book a worthwhile, enjoyable read even for people like me who are no fans of the crime genre.