BOOK REVIEW / Village of the damned: 'Light' - Torgny Lindgren; trs Tom Geddes: Harvill, 8.99 pounds

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
SWEDISH writer Torgny Lindgren has created an eerily perfect tale. Wittily bleak, elegant and shocking, it is a novel about experiences which one hasn't ever quite come across before. Yet is is almost biblical in its moral dilemmas and in the simple

dignity of its characterisation.

A man goes on a journey to look for love and instead brings death home to his native village of Kadis - in the shape of a pregnant, plague-infected rabbit. The 'Great Sickness' kills him, and then makes short work of his neighbours, leaving only three men and three women. Bereft not only of their friends and families, but of a sense of purpose and community, the survivors live on in the empty village, trapped in a spiritual vacuum hauntingly evoked by Lindgren's straightforward narrative.

The six couple and conceive, accuse and abuse one another as moral confusion permeates their lives. 'We can't live as if in a story, where anything at all can happen, higgledy-piggledy and without any order or meaning,' says Konik, the carpenter, who senses the entropy even before the Great Sickness strikes.

But they can, and they do. Before long, a string of 'abominations' occurs. A doomed man forcibly plants a child in his daughter. The former village executioner is seen having intercourse with a heifer. And a bull, in a frenzy of rage, devours most of a child; in the end only a 'small piece' of her, a 'formless and unspeakab1e thing', is left lying on the ground - an episode icily horrific in its studied lack of detail. Decline and disintegration take over. There is no 'law and order', only a series of 'random precautions' - against what, exactly, nobody knows.

When, finally, a stranger from the outside world comes to Kadis, Konik's urge to confess and be judged - his quest for the 'light' of the title - entirely swamps any impulse to escape, and his moral conscience invites a new and final destruction.

Lindgren writes with a cool, spartan purity in which deaths and brutalities are dismissed in a sentence. Characters are barely described and yet we know them, or feel we know them, from the start. This is a black fairy story, a morality tale with no

easy moral. Despite the unflinching sense of good at the core of the novel, Torgny Lindgren is intent upon disquieting us, daring us to believe that there's a devil lurking somewhere nearby - and making any happy ending that is offered up seem futile and temporary.

Comments