Ordfront, 2010. ISBN: 9789170374036
Reviewed by Peter Graves in SBR 2010:2
John Ajvide Lindqvist is back with his fourth novel since 2004, having also fitted in a volume of short stories and a serial story in Dagens Nyheter since his début. We’ve had vampires (albeit charming and touching ones) and we’ve had zombies; now it is the turn of werewolves, although we are well through the novel before we realise that is what they are. Ajvide Lindqvist specialises in showing us the dark forces of the world of horror that lurk within the everyday world of folkhemmet (the people’s home) and making real what we would prefer to consider unreal. Writing this on an evening when the TV news has been dominated by the scenes of carnage perpetrated by an ‘ordinary’ taxi driver in Cumbria, of peace activists battering Israeli soldiers with iron pipes and being shot in return, and police searching Yorkshire rivers for the body parts of yet another unfortunate woman, one is not inclined to doubt him. Lilla stjärna opens when a has-been popular musician finds a living baby buried in a plastic bag in the forest and discovers that the baby not only has perfect pitch, but also possesses a singing voice of wonderful purity. Before that opening scene, however, we have been given a short but threatening Prologue, set fourteen years later at one of the summer sing-along concerts at Skansen, Stockholm’s much-loved open-air stage. The scene is one of summer sun, schmaltz and communal warmth, but the event ends with the words: ‘Let us sing along for now. We have a long way to go before we come back here. Only when the road has softened us up and we are ready to think the unthinkable, will it be time to return.’ Secretly and illegally, the musician, his wife and their incompetently delinquent adult son, Jerry, decide to keep the mysterious baby and bring it up in a cellar, isolated from the world around. More or less simultaneously, another little girl is growing up – a very ordinary little girl, overweight, not very attractive, excluded and bullied by her schoolmates (it is clearly no accident that her surname is the commonplace Svensson). As teenagers the two girls meet via Internet social networking sites, form a singer/songwriter partnership and, having gathered an all-girl gang of groupies who are ready ‘to think the unthinkable’, become the werewolves who cause carnage at the summer singalong. In a sense, we are on familiar territory. It is a story of the sufferings of outsiders, of the socially excluded, the bullied, the depressed and (perhaps) the severely autistic, and of the revenge exacted by the dispossessed and powerless when they find their own society – that of the wolf pack. With the vampirism of Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) Ajvide Lindqvist may have left us with a little glimmer of hope, but we are left with no such thing by his lycanthropes in Lilla stjärna. And whose fault is it? Ajvide Lindqvist is not daft enough to give us simple answers, but a particular target here is the X-Factor world of commercial pop-culture with its instant celebrity, its vacuous fame and its exploitation of the gullible for sex and money. Nor is its predecessor, the sentimental danceband world (the title of a song by the then popstar Alice Babs) let off lightly. Ajvide Lindqvist is a satirist of some class and, strangely perhaps, though not so surprisingly when we remember that he was a stand-up comic in a past life, there is a good deal of bitter humour here, too. Put vomit where the blood is and we are not too far away from the world of Little Britain. It is good to see that my local library has not shelved the translations of Ajvide Lindqvist’s earlier novels under ‘Horror’: for all the gore, they are much more thought-provoking than that, transcending the formulaic boundaries of genre fiction and probing at the interaction of exclusion, powerlessness and violence.