Little Star is my first novel by Swedish horror sensation, John Ajvide Lindqvist. I have copies of all his books, except unbelievably, Let The Right One In. But so far this is the first of them I've actually read. Following his famous debut, Lindqvist has garnered a lot of praise, and achieved a strong reputation in a relatively short time frame. With Little Star, finally, I can see why. I've read no recent horror novel quite like it.
This story is about two outcast girls with very similar names. The first of these is Theres. Theres was abandoned in a wood as a baby, discarded like trash. By chance, she is discovered by Lennart Calderstrom, a former Swedish pop star. Lennart takes the baby back to his wife, and together they decide to keep the "Little One" and raise her as their own. But they do not adopt her, or raise her in any normal lifestyle, instead they keep her hidden in a cellar. The other girl, Teresa, appears to have had a more normal upbringing, but she too is a misfit, a person who feels quite alienated from her peers and society at large.
The first section of the book focuses exclusively on the bizarre, Theres. Here, we witness the early years of her strange life and the nature of her new dysfunctional family. Theres, with her weird note perfect signing, is so strange in fact, that during this section I found myself wondering if she might later be revealed to be something other than human. I'll not give away any spoilers, but will say that Lindqvist actually doesn't answer too many questions himself, even at the end.
A little further into the book and we move on from Theres for a time, and are introduced to the other girl, Teresa. Her social isolation seems much more conventional. We see how she struggles to relate to her parents as well as others of her own age, with the notable exception of a neighbouring boy, Johannes. We learn that she has always felt different and apart from other people, and of her fixation on death and the darker aspects of life. We also see how she is bullied at school by the popular kids. With Teresa, unlike Theres, you feel you know the sort of kid she is. Later, Teresa develops something of a fixation for Theres when she sees her bizarre performances on reality pop show, Idol. Of course, the two girls inevitably meet, having connected over an Internet forum, and when they do, they form a strong bond which eventually evolves into the nexus of a larger group of outcast girls.
Little Star is a very unusual novel. In places reminiscent of We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, touching as it does upon some of the same issues as that work. There is something remarkably uncomfortable about this book, a kind of pervasive wrongness that permeates the text, and clearly survived the translation from Swedish to English very well. I find it difficult to say precisely why this book has that effect. Some elements are obvious: it's graphically brutal in places, and that brutality is performed by children who might otherwise be considered angelic, such as Theres with her golden hair and melodic voice. This certainly is a factor. Less obviously, I think it's the way the novel skilfully highlights the superficial nature of many societal values, and the way in which the violent disaffection of the young girls takes on an almost spiritual dimension in response.
Some people may be put off by the lack of overt supernatural elements or by the fact that the book never really answers your questions. But in my view, Lindqvist has created one of the best horror novels of recent times. A deeply unsettling, finely tuned, twisted hymn to social alienation. All that, and Abba too... Highly recommended.