I picked this book solely because I thought the cover was cool. And as said cover implies, the stories here are varied, but each is dark and a little creepy. Indeed, there’s a permeating weirdness across the collection that Tidbeck sometimes sponges up with her prose and sometimes leaves to soak.
A Swedish author who writes both in her native language and English, Tidbeck’s word choices often have a foreignness about them that do a lot to bring about this feeling of something being askew. I know Murakami doesn’t do his own English translations, but I was reminded of his writing in that way. Like it does for Murakami, these slightly off-key notes give Tidbeck’s story a distinctly magical–and haunting–feel.
It was June, and the flowerbeds were full of giddy insects that every now and then buzzed over to Herr Cederberg to make sure he wasn’t a flower.
The subject matter of the stories is wonderfully weird in its own right. The opening story, “Beatrice,” is about a man who falls in love with an airship. He is unable to buy the particular one he is enamored with, so he build a replicate and keeps it in a hangar as his wife. In need of cash, he takes on a tenant: a young woman who is in love (and in a relationship with) a steam engine. She dies giving birth to a human-machine hybrid daughter, whom the dirigible-loving man raises as his own. When his adopted hybrid child grows a little older, she is able to communicate with Beatrice, who relates that she hates the man, who has, from her point of view, kept her as a rape slave for all these years.
Some of the stories, such as “Reindeer Mountain,” teeter tantalizingly on the edge of supernatural, occasionally tipping over at just the right moment. In this one, two sisters clean out their grandmother’s attic while their crazy uncle tells them stories about the folkloric fairy people, the vitra, who lived in the mountains and would play tricks on humans, or sometimes even marry them.
Then there are stories that take place in other dimensions entirely. “Aunts” and “Augusta Prima” both take place in a weird twilight realm outside the boundaries of our concept of time. Perhaps my favorite of the collection, the titular “Jagannath” is like a bastard child of a Miyazaki movie. A monstrous creature named Mother roams the landscape, and humans live inside of her, maintaining her workings as well living off her for nourishment, like ants in a colony. It’s very weird, and very good.
“Very weird and very good” pretty much describes this whole collection. In fact, many of the stories originally appeared in Weird Tales. If you’re looking for a nice change of pace diversion, or just have a thing for short stories full of grotesque whimsy, then this is your book.