Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist is a horror mystery set on the isolated Swedish island of Domarö, which has a hidden past that is still haunting the present.
Our story begins with Cecilia and Anders taking their young daughter, Maja, on a daytrip to the lighthouse on the tiny island of Gåvasten, connected to Domarö by a stretch of sea that has frozen over in the spring. What starts out as a fun family outing soon has horrific consequences as Maja disappears, seemingly into nothingness, as there are no footprints in the snow and no clues that indicate how she could have gotten off of the island.
The book then leaps to present day, with Anders returning to Domarö a year later with his life in a downward spiral. He has become an alcoholic, has pushed Cecilia away and is still desperate for answers regarding his daughter. Living in their old family home brings back old memories for him, and he starts sleeping in Maja’s bed to try and feel close to her, and beginning to think that the house is possessed with her spirit.
Someone was watching him. He tensed the muscles in his legs, swallowed hard and without warning he shot up from his chair with such speed that it fell over backwards. He looked quickly around the kitchen, in all the corners and shadows. There was no one there.
Elsewhere on the island, Anders’ grandmother, Anna-Greta, and her lover, Simon, become concerned for Anders’ welfare, but it is clear that both know more about the island’s history than they first let on. The book also delves into their past, detailing how they met and how their relationship has changed over the years.
The book’s forays into the past also show us more strange disappearances from the island, all of which involve the sea, giving the residents cause to believe that there is something nasty lurking within the water. Then there is the mysterious Spiritus, a magical insect found by Simon that gives him power to control the water. Does this insect have something to do with the threat of the sea, or are there further powerful forces at work?
I really enjoyed Lindqvist’s writing in this book, as it cleverly takes you to different parts of the island’s history whilst still feeling that everything has relevance. However, I did feel that the book’s ending was a little odd and not fully explained, but this lack of explanation further reinforces the book’s mystery so it can be easily overlooked. I also wasn’t sure about the inclusion of the supernatural Spiritus, as I felt the book could have worked better if the threat was just from the sea instead of adding supernatural elements too.
As for Anders’ character, in a way I was glad that the entirety of the book wasn’t focused on him as I found myself getting frustrated with the amount he was drinking and the harsh way he interacted with other characters. This was understandable to an extent, as he has lost his daughter, but sometimes it did feel too self-deprecating.
I was glad for the writer’s use of multiple perspectives, as I enjoyed reading from Simon and Anna-Greta’s points of view, and seeing their history together. They both have interesting pasts, and it is clear that they are both concerned for Anders’ well-being and sympathise with his search for Maja. However, both of these characters are keeping secrets from each other and from Anders, and when the secrets are revealed they could be the key to discovering her whereabouts…
Overall this book was a gripping mystery, and despite being a little disappointed with the ending I still found it hard to put this book down, as it was really well-written and I really wanted to know what had happened to Maja and the others who had disappeared on Domarö. There are some disturbing scenes, and I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a good horror mystery novel.
This book was an intriguing read as I was never quite sure where the story was going to go next, especially as it takes you on a journey through different times. I felt that it was very cleverly written for all of the island’s history to be interwoven, and loved Lindqvist’s writing style as it was easy to pick up the book and not put it down again.
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