Premise: Anders and Cecilia live a happy life with their daughter, Maja, on the island of Domarö in the archipelago off the coast of Sweden. Then, on a day trip to the lighthouse, Maja disappears without a trace and their lives are turned upside down.
They can’t handle the loss and they leave the island and separate, with Anders falling into drunkenness. In an attempt to regain some sanity, he comes back to Domarö to find answers with the help of his strong-willed grandmother, Anna-Greta, and her life partner of fifty years, the magician, Simon. Anders learns that there are more strange occurrences happening that natives of the island are keeping secret, including his own grandmother.
Simon may not be a native of Domarö, but he is keeping his own secret: the fact that he is bound to a strange centipede-like insect that is actually a magical creature called a Spiritus that allows him to have a connection with water. And water is everywhere. The sea might just be the source of the strange occurrences, and the size and reach of the sea is great. But these things still might not be enough to keep a father from searching for his lost daughter.
Themes: Some events can send ripples through the lives of many people, such as the loss of a child or the choices of an entire island to make a living. They can have an effect not only on those directly involved but also for generations following. We learn that the secrets of Domarö are because of things that happened long ago, and those events might just be the reason for Maja’s disappearance.
Harbor is really a story about what lengths a father is willing to go to find his child. Can he pull himself from the pits of despair and do whatever it takes to save his little girl? Even with a crumbling marriage and downward spiral into addiction and self-loathing, Anders still can find strength through his love of Maja, and that love might also even heal the other wounds.
This is also a story of facing fears. Whether it be irrational fears of an inanimate object, the fear of committing to marriage, or the fear of having to face tragedy, Harbor brings these fears to the forefront and forces the characters to wallow in them.
Pros: Harbor is a deeply depressing story that actually brought about redemption for not just the characters, but the island of Domarö itself. It did it in such a unique and non-cliche way that the ending’s contrast to the rest of the book made me glad I finished reading it. The atmosphere on the island feels suppressing and claustrophobic and Lindqvist’s prose gives us suspense by not allowing us to escape the tension too quickly. He makes the reader sit in it and ponder it, sometimes without providing relief. This proves to be pretty effective and we are left with a tension-filled, uncomfortable story throughout.
Cons: The book could have been cut down a hundred pages and still not lost much of anything. It just dragged on at times and the cuts could have brought more of a sense of urgency in Anders finding Maja. There were a few unnecessarily graphic scenes, both violent and sexual in nature, and one that is just plain gross. They didn’t add much to the story for me, and since this book was too long anyway they could have been easily dropped.
The book is filled with strange sentence structure, many times combining multiple sentences with commas instead of semicolons or splitting them into separate sentences. These just felt like run-on sentences. I don’t know if it was from a translation from Swedish to English or just intentionally done bad structure, but it started to bother me. Just use a period and start a new sentence. Don’t combine two complete sentences with a comma. It’s annoying.
Recommendations: Harbor is a creepy story of the immensity of the sea and the power it holds. I felt uncomfortable while reading it, but in a good way because of the nature of the plot. I was expecting a defeatist story with no hope or chance of redemption, but I was pleasantly disappointed. Give it a chance if you have the time for a dark and eloquent tale of loss and despair. While being a long story that can drag at times, the payoff is worth it in the end.