Vänligheten mini-review

For discussion of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel Vänligheten
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Siggdalos
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Joined: Sun Nov 01, 2020 8:22 pm
Location: Sweden

Vänligheten mini-review

Post by Siggdalos » Sat Jan 23, 2021 9:33 pm

John's latest 715-page mammoth Vänligheten has been out in Sweden for a couple weeks now. I finished it a while ago but have been waiting to post my thoughts on it, partially because this dedicated subforum hadn't been made yet and partially because I wanted to see if my feelings towards it would change after I'd had some time to reflect on it. The latter hasn't occurred, so there's no reason for me to delay any longer with this.

The novel is deeply based in Norrtälje (a small town close to where John lives north of Stockholm), similar to LTROI's use of Blackeberg, but even more focused on painting a detailed portrait of the town and its people. At its core, the book is about love, the importance of everyday kindness between people, and the disasters that could occur if this kindness vanished and was replaced by fear (and also Pokémon Go). The basic premise is that a mysterious yellow container is discovered in Norrtälje's harbor one morning in September 2018. When the container is opened, something seeps into Norrtälje's central river and causes people's kindness to gradually wither away as they become overwhelmed by their own personal fears and consequently become hateful and aggressive. The main character cast consists of a handful of Norrtälje inhabitants around the age of 30 who are all very different but all feel more or less unsure about what they want to do with their life (and a couple of whom have supernatural abilities). Their relations of course change and develop over the length of the story, with lengthy flashbacks to their pasts to show how and why they turned out the way they did.

As for my opinion: I really like it for the most part. There are many beautiful and heartbreaking parts, many funny parts, and a number of deeply disturbing parts that show off some of JAL's best horror writing to date (specifically relating to what's inside the container, which I won't spoil). Out of the 5-7 main characters, there was really only one I never felt particularly invested in (Anna), and I feel a bit sad that my reading of it is over simply because it means I won't get to spend any more time with the protagonists. It's worth mentioning that the story has more political elements than most of John's other stories (even more so than I Always Find You), but it fits the tale being told and I think it's handled decently well.

There are definitely things that diminish my liking of it. For one, I don't think the book needed to be quite as long as it is. The story flows well the majority of the time, but there are portions of the second half where things start to get repetitive in regards to two of the characters' will-they-won't-they romance, and it takes an almost frustratingly long time until the main cast realizes what has by that point already long been obvious to the reader (the cause of the disappearing kindness). Conversely, I think the ending is pretty anticlimactic in how quickly and simply all the different conflicts are resolved, and I wish a larger portion of the 715 pages had been devoted to the last few chapters and epilogue. There are also a number of distracting editing mistakes (mostly involving the use of quotation marks), but that's a smaller issue that will hopefully disappear in translated versions.

Still, I can definitely understand why John considers it his best novel so far. It's not my personal favorite of his books, but it's pretty close.

There are a couple connections to other JAL stories, for those who are curious about that kind of thing (like I am). Bröderna Djup, a Norrtälje-based criminal duo first introduced in Little Star, play an important role in one of the subplots. The video "Ansiktsburk" pops up, and there's a meta reference to John and LTROI that caught me off-guard. There are a couple other minor things too, but I'll leave it at that.
De höll om varandra i tystnad. Oskar blundade och visste: detta var det största. Ljuset från lyktan i portvalvet trängde svagt in genom hans slutna ögonlock, la en hinna av rött för hans ögon. Det största.

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