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Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck
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Book Name: Jagannath
Author: Karin Tidbeck
Publisher(s): Cheeky Frawg Books (first edition) Vintage Books (re-release)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Short Stories / Fantasy / Weird
Release Date: June 27, 2012 (first edition) February 6, 2018 (re-release)

Jagannath (cover first edition)With Jagannath, I return to two genres I have visited in earlier reviews: short stories and Scandinavian fiction. One of my very first reviews for this site was a collection of speculative fiction set during the Age of Discovery, dealing with subjects as varied as the invention of a new sort of clock to Darwin’s secret voyage; another, more recent favorite, was a set of three reviews about a trilogy translated from Swedish about a group of schoolgirls who hold the power to save the world. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the two genres are more connected than I first thought.

But first: Jagannath.

The stories in this book are deceptively short, and it would be easy to believe that you could read them in a series of short sittings. In theory, it’s true – counting the afterward, the book is just over a hundred and fifty pages long – but in practice the stories are so unsettling that even the shortest one lingers. Some are more unsettling than others. “Rebecka”, for instance, is the story of a woman seemingly literally abandoned by God, is a far more disturbing read than “Beatrice”, the tale of a man who falls in love with an airship. (Not that “Beatrice” isn’t disturbing. It’s merely less so.) These are stories that ought to have time to settle, lest they take root somewhere in your mind and open doors that should have been left closed.

Did I make that last sentence as eerie as possible because the book is the eeriest I’ve read lately? Maybe. That’s just the sort of mood this collection left me in.

When I found myself in the midst of unsettling stories, I thought there would be something that would turn me off. I tend to grow too emotionally invested, even in short stories, and “Rebecka” was easily the most difficult for me to read. To my surprise, however, there wasn’t a single story I disliked. There were some I liked more than others – “Brita’s Holiday Village” and “Cloudberry Jam” were my favorites – but there wasn’t a single story I wished could have been cut.

That unsettling nature is what I’ve found short stories and Scandinavian speculative fiction (and near speculative fiction; I don’t know exactly how to count Datura, except as, well, unsettling) have in common. With short stories, it’s easy to see where the unsettling aspect comes from. There’s no way to learn everything about the world of a short story. There will always be something left out, simply because of how the format works. It makes them difficult to write but, well done, wonderful to read. As for Scandinavian speculative fiction… I’m not sure. I suspect they’re unsettling due to long winters and cold summers. The weather must affect the authors’ minds.

(I’m not entirely sure whether I’m kidding. Someone who has more experience with the genre should weigh in.)

People who are already into unsettling fiction, Scandinavian or not, will no doubt already be interested in Jagannath and Karin Tidbeck. For those who are still on the fence, for one reason or another, here are a few reasons to check out the book:

The afterword. Granted, I’m the sort of person who always reads the afterword, but this one is particularly interesting. Tidbeck talks about translating her own work and the difference in connotation and sound between Swedish and English words. Maybe I love it mostly because I’m a bit of a language nut, but it’s interesting nonetheless, and a perfect way to ease back into the real world after existing in the dreams of Tidbeck’s creation.

Jagannath (cover re-release)“Pyret”
Do you like encyclopedia entries about things that don’t really exist? Of course you do. The Pyret is a curious creature, not quite harmless but not quite dangerous either, and the ending of the story is wistful and bittersweet, following the same tone as the rest of the book.

“Who is Arvid Pekon?”
This one’s just plain weird. Arvid Pekon works in a government call center, and in the first call we see him answer, he has to pretend to be Eva Idegård, the caller’s caseworker at the unemployment office. In the second call, the caller asks to be put through to her dead mother. It gets weirder from there.

“Augusta Prima”
This one called to me because it’s very much a fairy story, and I’m familiar with fairies. It does, however, take a turn for the disturbing with the introduction of a watch. All right, so the croquet game at the beginning, which follows fairy rules rather than any I’m familiar with, was a little disturbing too, but the watch made everything weird.

I think that’s easily the best way to describe Jagannath: It’s weird, in the best way I know. It takes a world I’m very nearly familiar with and twists it around until I can almost – but not quite – recognize it. The people who live in this world either live in or have visited the Uncanny Valley, and if this is any indication of what Scandinavian speculative fiction is like, then I will have to indulge in it a great deal more.

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