Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Tony Jones
“Abstract horror which seriously disappoints
“I Am Behind You” is John Ajvide Lindqvist’s first novel to appear in English since “Little Star” in 2011, being a major fan of this highly versatile Swedish author I was really looking forward to reading something new. However, this was a major disappointment and it does not compare favourably to any of his previous four novels. Interestingly, it appeared in Sweden way back in 2014 and the translation has taken a while to materialise, perhaps they struggled to find a home for it? If that was the case, it really would not surprise me. However, a second book (in this projected trilogy) has recently been released in Sweden, so the story does continue. The original title, in Swedish, translates into English literally as “Heaven’s Beach”.
The opening sequences of the book definitely catches the reader’s eye and initial interest for me was high. A group of holidaymakers, who do not know each other, wake up one morning to find themselves and their caravans are no longer in their caravan site. Instead they have, in some weird way, been transported to a huge open grass plain, where there is no sun, an endless horizon, and they have absolutely no idea how they got there, or how to leave. It then takes a while for the ten characters involved to come to their senses and explore their surroundings. So this is the setting for what has been billed as a “conceptual horror” as the ten Swedes try to deal with whatever this crisis is.
To be frank it was all pretty dull and uninvolving from start to finish. I struggled to visualise this endless and empty grassy place where this generally unlikeable and pretty boring bunch of people were stranded. The author does not give much in the way of descriptions to liven things up and I tired of this empty location pretty quickly as it took ages for anything to happen. Slowly the group realise the seriousness of their predicament and they start to scheme, backbite and things begin to go from bad to worse as they start to have visions, hallucinate, fight inner demons, and contend with acid rain with the power to create gaping holes in their caravan roofs. It gets even more bizarre when real people such as the actor James “everyone calls me Jimmy” Stewart makes several appearances, along with characters from Star Wars. One of the better characters is a slightly unsettling little girl who enjoys watching the French torture flick “Martyrs”, then throw in an emancipated tiger and white humanoid creatures lurking on the distant horizon who don’t do very much except lurk. What did this amount to? Not a lot, except a hodgepodge of disjointed sequences that made little sense.
The book explores not only the group's attempts to understand this new world but also investigates their individual histories - did something each of them do when they were younger lead to this current situation? A lot of the novel is told via this flashback method and once again I found these sequences very uninvolving. Further real characters appear including popular Swedish singer Peter Himmelstrand and lots of other references mainly to Swedish pop culture. The Swedish media did indicate that some of the occurrences may have been autobiographical points of notes from the author’s own life. Once the initial interest wears of the book really sagged in the middle, the back stories plodded, and I naively hoped for a conclusion that would provide answers. Once again, I was disappointed.
It's a very dodgy sign when the only characters you care about and want to survive are the cat and the dog which become friends when everything else goes to crap. The Swedish media reacted pretty favourably to this book, stating that Lindquist was evolving his literary style into more abstract and existentialist type of horror. Personally I don’t buy that statement, I enjoy challenging and intelligent horror, but when you get to the end of 400 pages and absolutely nothing is revealed the majority of readers are going to be shaking their heads. Horror requires atmosphere and this novel really, really lacked it, and was as bland as the grassy setting.
Is it heaven, hell, purgatory or something else? You may not care by the time you get to the end. Not that you find out anyway. I like very strange horror novels, “Little Star” by this author is so much more than this cumbersome and tiring book I would highly recommend you read either that or any f the author’s other novels instead of this. The publishers will probably try to sell this new novel as “psychological horror” don’t believe them. Very disappointing.
A supernatural superthriller from the author of Let the Right One In
Molly wakes her mother to go to the toilet. The campsite is strangely blank. The toilet block has gone. Everything else has gone too. This is a place with no sun. No god.
Just four families remain. Each has done something to bring them here - each denies they deserve it. Until they see what's coming over the horizon, moving irrevocably towards them. Their worst mistake. Their darkest fear.
And for just one of them, their homecoming.