No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, July 30, 2012

2012/31: The Hurricane Party -- Klas Östergren


Regardless of how you look at the world, and no matter what you choose to call the powers that be, you can never ignore what is called the ‘magic of events’. It’s part of the human equation, the rhythm of the heart, the pulse of the narrative, the way things take shape whenever a story begins; expectations are awakened and with them the sense that at some time the whole thing will have to come to an end. [location 51]

Another Canongate Myth volume based on Norse mythology, The Hurricane Party takes as its starting-point the Lokasenna, in which Loki slanders the gods. (But is it slander if it's true?)

The world has been ravaged by pandemics, climate change and perhaps war. Hanck Orn counts himself fortunate to live in the city, ruled though it is by a gangsterish mob known only as the Clan. The wastelands beyond the city, outside the border, harbour many dangers, not least the sick and / or lawless folk who live there. Hanck used to work as an insurance adjuster, before the Clan did away with the Administration -- law, order, bureaucracy, society -- in favour of its own protection racket. One of Hanck's investigations out there in the wider world, some twenty years before, brought him his son Toby.

Now Hanck leads a slow and solitary life, restoring antique typewriters and listening to the long, low, unpredictable tones of the Organ. He misses his son constantly. Toby, a chef who never saw a cut of meat during his training, is working at an exclusive restaurant in the archipelago, catering a gala evening for the Clan.

But then two men in lavender overalls come to the door with the news that Toby is dead.

Hanck refuses to accept their story of a heart attack. He travels to the island where the Clan have gathered, and meets a young woman, Bora, who tells him what really befell his son. Toby simply sneezed; but he sneezed at the wrong time, and Loki ... well, Loki took exception.

Bora tells Hanck how the gala evening went downhill from there: a 'hurricane party', with Loki finally showing his contempt for the Clan. She tells other stories about the Clan, tales of violence and deceit intended to warn Hanck that revenge isn't an option. That's their world. Blood in the brooks, blood in the dew, blood in the frost and blood in the snow. [location 2141]. And she tells Hanck to seek Loki at the Colonial Club.

But there's no sign of the incomprehensible, unpredictable Loki. Instead, Hanck's drawn into conversation with an ageing hooker who gives him a letter addressed to the head of the Clan, the Old Man himself ...

Östergren's riff on the Eddas is inventive, bleak and suffused with dark humour. (The Hurricane Party can be read as post-apocalyptic SF, as well as an exploration of myth.) The digressions into 'stories about the Clan' can feel irrelevant, but I like the way Östergren portrays mythic elements (Loki's shapechanging, Fenrir, Helheim) as a part of the mundane world: it's not quite magic realism, more an underlying current of weirdness.

It's hard to like any of the characters in this novel -- especially the gods, who are credibly petty, brutal and bloody as the worst of the sagas depict them. Hanck, the innocent caught up in the end times, when everything's falling apart, is sympathetic, if not exactly likeable: by the end of the novel he's striving towards redemption in his own way. And if love can save the world, it can also end it:

...the world would continue to exist until love was explained. The destroyer of the world would lie bound in his cave as long as love remained a mystery. Or at least until someone with an open heart felt capable of forgiving him, with sincere and genuine love. [location 4172]

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