Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Review of Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

A few years ago I read an impacting short story, the type that is at once so familiar yet moves in so unique of a direction that it begs to be noticed. The underlying mood disquieting yet mysterious, I put a mental flag beside the author’s name should I ever encounter them again. The story was “Sing” by Karin Tidbeck, so when the chance to get a collection of her short fiction appeared, I jumped. This asks the question, is “Sing” representative of Jagannath:Stories (2012), or a one off? 

Jagannath opens on “Beatrice”, a story whose title ultimately holds the key to its message. What begins as a story of a man's love for an airship, slowly, steadily, yet surprisingly, becomes one of abuse. What follow is one of the best in the collection, “Some Letters for Ove Lindström”. In this story, the reader gets a first-hand view into a daughter's letters to her recently deceased, alcoholic father after years apart. On the uncanny hand, the reader is treated to liminal fairy tale like a sliver of the newest moon, resulting in touchingly sentimental piece that retains its mystery and longing. A small paean to rural domesticity and simple love, “Miss Nyberg and I” is a brief story, perhaps more anecdote, about a strange little animal that grows from the soil complementing a budding relationship.

More reactionary than substantive, more Hollywood than human, “Rebecka” is the creepy, twisted story about a woman attempting to deal with from an ex via suicide. “Herr Cederberg” is a laughingly direct, flash-in-the-pan telling of one man’s achieving the impossible. Possible to be seen as a brief meditation on fantastika, it’s quite interesting to reflect on the fact that you do not question Mr. Cederberg's aircraft, but you do question the point at which he ultimately arrives, leading to the question: at what point did I suspend my disbelief?

Brita’s – Possibly about Tidbeck herself and a few months of summer at an aunt’s cottage set aside for writing, “Brita's Holiday Village” takes on subtly, non-autobiographical twists as her creativity takes hold. A good, ol’ fashioned horror story set in the countryside of Sweden, in “Reindeer Mountain” a strange thing happens when a family goes to claim its belongings before the government expropriates the property. Rooted in Sweden and the family’s history, the child lets go of the balloon.

A brief piece, “Cloudberry Jam” is about giving birth and letting go of something , and the something is the story’s signature. In “Augusta Prima”, readers are provided a fantastical croquette looking at the meaning of time. What else to say? Closing out the collection is the title story, “Jagannath”. Weird, weird, and WEIRD, it tells of a young man's journey through an environment that is wholly biological. About reproduction as a process, or at least a coordinated set set of activities that produce life, the story sees people taking the place of things like blood or nerves, trying to keep the mother machine alive through it all.

In the end,
Jagannath is very much a questing, exploratory, open collection. Stories are told, but its more about the journey than climax/resolution. They are not “storyteller’s stories” which lure you in through twists and drama, more a writer finding a voice inside herself through fiction. And while the whole doesn't live up to the quality of “Sing”, there certainly is enough to warrant reading, if not for the non-standard approach and stance of most. It will be very interesting to see how Tidbeck develops her voice through story in the future. There is a lot of promise here.

The following are the thirteen stories collected in Jagannath:


Some Letters for Ove Lindström

Miss Nyberg and I


Herr Cederberg

Who Is Arvid Pekon?

Brita's Holiday Village

Reindeer Mountain

Cloudberry Jam


Augusta Prima



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