Jagannath is a collection of 13 short stories of different lengths, all containing at least a hint of the imaginary, the unreal, and the weird, as allegories of alienation, otherness, and the taboo, but also as archetypal symbols in their own right.
The collection opens with Beatrice, a story about the many forms love can take, but how similar the pain is when that love goes unrequited. It's also a story about birth and the love between parents and children.
In Tidbeck's stories the process of birth and the love between parents and children is often difficult and painful, but always strong and touching, as in the sad Some Letters for Ove Lindström, the beautiful Cloudberry Jam, the darkly opulent Aunts, and the fantastic title story, Jagannath, about a living mothership/hive and its relationship to the offspring that is living inside their mother.
Another theme is the mysterious, the hidden, and the uncanny, arriving in the form of strange creatures or events, as in the stories of Miss Nyberg and I, Herr Cederberg, Who Is Arvid Pekon, and in particular, Pyret. The latter being an imaginary research article and report about a mysterious shapeshifting creature which seems to evolve into something increasingly human over time as it becomes more and more familiar with people and our way of life.
Other stories draw from themes encountered elsewhere in modern speculative literature, such as Rebecka, which is about life, ethics and religion in a world after the Second Coming, and Augusta Prima, which is set in a timeless and dream-like baroque world on the edge of ours.Read more ›
Some of these stories really clicked with me, while many other elicited only a 'meh'. The best fused Scandinavian folklore with the trials and tribulations of modernity, and evoked a haunting sense of lack-of-place and the need to belong. Most of these involved humans coming to terms with brushes (or relations) with the supernatural--familial connections to faeries (or other beings) and the like. But one of my favorites, Augusta Prima, turned the tables, and described the bizarre and sadistic faery court untouched by the conventional rules of time and space, where a brush with human knowledge (the knowledge of the existence of time) leads to isolation and ostracism. This one has hints of A Midsummer Night's Dream gone horribly awry, mixed with the biblical references to being cast out of the garden, along with a bit of the Lovecraft's perspective from The Call of Cthulu: "The most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents" etc.
Altogether certainly worth a read. Some of these stories will likely stick with you (and those that you find mediocre you'll rapidly forget, so no harm done).
"Jagannath"--the first English collection from Swedish author Karin Tidbeck--is the most startlingly original and hauntingly beautiful book I've read in the last few years. It's tempting to describe Ms. Tidbeck's ideas and language in (no doubt clichéd) Nordic terms: long winter twilight and crisp clear lines, a no-nonsense modernism and a fey forest folklore. But these stories come from some realm far more strange and haunted. It's difficult--and probably useless--to assign these stories to any particular genre or style. There are elements of Borges's academic literary fantasies and of García Márquez'a folkloric Magic Realism, of a darkly twisted Lewis Carroll and a wryly modest Kafka. And over all there is a timelessness, originality, and clarity of language that will appeal to readers of fantastic and literary fiction alike. It's the sort of book you will reread (I've been through it twice already) and lend to (or buy for) friends. The book is getting rave reviews from sites like NPR and Publisher's Weekly and from authors like Ursula K. Le Guin, China Miéville, and Elizabeth Hand. I'm betting it will be in the running for a slew of awards in the coming year.
From Sweden comes an author writing original stories in English. The strangeness of the stories is accentuated by the plainness of her prose, in a way that makes you read the paragraph twice when you just can't believe what you just read. It may be a result of English not being her first language, but Tidbeck's style adds to the effect of strangeness. Some stories are variants of Nordic legends and folktales, but with a flair that is all her own. This author will be worth watching.
This was a great collection of a few weird tales. Well written, captivating and all with a distinctly Nordic flair. Each story in it was a page turner. Karin Tidbeck is a great author, and I can't wait to read more of her work- she's a new favorite.
Where do they keep coming from? Over the last handful of weeks I've read Near + Far by Cat Rambo, At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson, and Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand--three new collections of short stories, all from small presses, all by female authors, and all superb. And then, just when I think it can't get any better, along comes Karin Tidbeck's debut collection Jagannath, which may just be the best one of the bunch. If you take into account that this is Tidbeck's debut collection in English and that it was translated from Swedish to English by the author herself, it's hard not to be awed by the sheer level of talent on display here.
Karin Tidbeck had been writing and publishing short stories in Swedish for several years when, given the relatively small number of venues for short speculative fiction in her homeland, she decided to set her sights on the English language markets. She applied for and was accepted into the prestigious Clarion Writers Workshop, translated some of her own stories into English, and lo and behold, slowly her name started popping up in English language publications. The first time I spotted her was in last year's inaugural issue of Unstuck Annual (which I reviewed for Tor.com here) with the quirky, tender story "Cloudberry Jam", but I freely confess that, at that time, I had no idea yet of what she was really capable of. Thanks to Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's Cheeky Frawg imprint, we now have a lovely, slim volume of Karin Tidbeck's stunning short fiction.
In her introduction to this collection, Elizabeth Hand writes that it's "rare, almost unheard of, to encounter an author so extraordinarily gifted she appears to have sprung full-blown into the literary world, like Athena from the head of Zeus.Read more ›