Sunday, July 02, 2023

Book Review: JAGANNATH by Karin Tidbeck

JAGANNATH (2012) by Karin Tidbeck

Karin Tidbeck is an award-winning Swedish writer, whose works have been published in English. JAGANNATH is a collection of Tidbeck's short fiction. Tidbeck has won critical praise from writers such as China Mieville and Elizabeth Hand - and
Ursula K. LeGuin (see the cover photo).

My personal taste in literature tends towards science fiction, but also what I like to call ”surrealist” fiction – stories with a dreamlike quality or logic, where the nature of reality itself is blurred or challenged. These stories may be SF, horror, or fantasy, or magical realism, or defy simple categorization. They leave the reader mystified yet haunted, as if by some strange dream.

All of the stories in JAGANNATH are surreal in some way. Mythical beings from Scandinavian folklore may appear in present-day Sweden. Or a person will go to his daily work in an office, but the work itself is an impossible task. Or... a protagonist will fall in love with a non-human machine (no, not something as obvious as a robot). Or... a nightmarish pocket universe exists somewhere, that makes the monsters of H.P. Lovecraft seem tame by comparison.

All that, and more, is offered in this collection of stories. What made me enjoy them was not just the ideas and imagination, but the execution of the stories.

Tidbeck's prose is spare, restrained and focused – a talent I have always admired. (Bad writers tend to flail around as they struggle to express what they wanted to say, and their prose ends up being both vague and overlong.) To clarify: this is not ”iceberg prose” in the sense of, say, Hemingway. I mean that there is no excess of words.

The author has included an afterword which describes the challenge of translating these stories from Swedish to English – and how hard it can be to convey the original nuance or ”mood” in translation.

I noticed what seemed like recurring themes in JAGANNATH, and wondered whether these were going to be Tidbeck's ”big subjects”; most successful writers have some themes that they keep returning to. I shouldn't spoil the book by telling you what they are, because I recommend you read this very original book and find out for yourself.

JAGANNATH compares well to the works of other outstanding ”surrealist” writers such as Jorge Luis Borges or Philip K. Dick.

Other works by Karin Tidbeck:
AMATKA (novel) - reviewed

#bookreviews #books  #sciencefiction #karintidbeck #böcker #litteratur #boktips

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