Review of Vänligheten (2021)


John Ajvide Lindqvist (writer).

Read in 2022.

Observed by a local spirit of the wind, four generations of sibyls exorcise an evil spirit from a river in Norrtälje, Sweden. On a more prosaic level, two awkward girls grow up to be fat women and meet new guys over Pokémon Go in the midst of a fatal accident in the trafficking of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan.

A highly commercial page-turner for the Swedish summer. Lindqvist achieves this by foregrounding a small set of well-written characters. The several supernatural premises, which include the wind god, the evil spirit, and about four different psychic powers, are pushed to the background. The confrontation between these forces is limited to the last hundred of the 700 pages in the 2022 paperback I read.

In that confrontation, clairvoyance is compared to Star Wars (1977) and Harry Potter (1997), but not outlined. Despite being a chatty sort, the narrator actively avoids the topic of temporal paradox and the Cassandra complex. No meaningful worldbuilding is done beyond a supernatural moral dichotomy and some limited ways to see and hear into the future. Instead, in a shallow fantasy pasted over realism, Lindqvist misapplies Occam’s razor to defend magic as the simplest possible explanation for surprising developments, without examination or any societal change.

The setup is good, reminiscent of Stephen King with believable characters at the centre. However, with so little faith in his larger premises, Lindqvist is unable to drive the narrative to a satisfying conclusion. Instead, the sibyls as a group are dismissively compared to the Avengers of then-recent MCU movie fame. Once teamed up, they easily defeat evil while the book’s strong characters mostly fall apart. Marko, Maria and Johan take particularly disinteresting paths in the short climax, as if Lindqvist had lost interest in these characters while trying to sew up the thriller plot for a timely publication.

In the set of novels about mysterious shipping containers as metaphors for globalization, prefer Spook Country (2007).

text fiction