I’m going to make a hash out of this, but I have to give it a go anyway. Most of what I write about is both quality and engages with questions that I find interesting. (Politics and economics, for example, or the Singularity, or exploding spaceships.) Some of what’s left is bad and begging to be mocked. Both of these are easy to write about; words practically flow onto the page like the mighty Amazon River once I get going. Other books though, are a bit like that quiet kid back in high school who looked perfectly normal, but once in awhile would say something completely out of the blue that made everyone think, “Wait, is (s)he ok? That was brilliant, but is one of us going to suddenly turn up dead one morning at his/her hand?” Jagannath is exactly that book.
In more mundane terms, Jagannath is a short book of short stories, thirteen of them in 134 pages. Tidbeck is from Sweden, so one might compare this book to a Volvo, if the Volvo were beautifully constructed, delicate and graceful, with all sorts of innocently sinister tics and quirks, and without those big mother headlights in front. On second thought, Jagannath is almost nothing like a Volvo; something tells me that Ikea and meatballs are also comparison non-starters. The stories are, however, often based on Scandinavian folk tales and maintain the dislocated feel caused by exaggerated days and nights that come with the seasons in that distant clime. I’m not exactly in midnight sun territory here, but it is far enough north that I can see the psychological changes that follow the early nights of winter and the long, long days in summer. The connection between endless nights and twilights and the weirdness in the stories is sometimes overt, sometimes implied, but almost always present.
I think that my favorites of the collection are the opener, “Beatrice,” and “Brita’s Holiday Village.” I would be hard pressed to explain why these stand out more than the others, since the collection as a whole demonstrates a consistent level of quality. All of the stories worm their way into the reader’s subconscious, causing random flashes of ghostly weirdness. Nothing in the book qualifies as a taut, page-turning yarn; instead the stories move elegantly from reality into something very strange, leaving the reader with a furrowed brow and a, “wait, how did we end up here?” The effect is rather like someone looking at a seemingly charming Edward Gorey picture and saying, “Well this is cu… hey! Is that bear eating the children?”
So far, I have only made comical (offensive?) Scandinavian caricatures, without offering much in the way of analysis or critical appraisal. Sadly, things aren’t going to get any better, because Jagannath defies easy categorization. The only other comparison I can make is to Mozart’s chamber music: transparent miniatures of impeccable craftsmanship that, if not always to my taste, are well worth an in-depth study. Hopefully that is enough to convince everyone to check out what will likely be a touchstone collection of 2012.
Rating: Let’s go all the way with Sweden and this particularly insane goal against Brave England.