“When we are faced with certain experiences, language falls short.” So writes John Ajvide Lindqvist in I Always Find You, a truth further removed from the original intent because, like all his previous works, it has been translated from his native Swedish into English, a process which brings his stories to a wider audience but also inevitably changes them, mutates them into something parallel but not entirely synchronous.
His most famous work 2004’s Låt den rätte komma in, more commonly known as Let the Right One In, a tale of vampires in the suburbs of Stockholm, here Lindvist returns to his hometown with a tale which illuminates some of the background of that acclaimed novel, leading to the question: how much of I Always Find You is real, how much is remembered, how much is imagined?
It was September 1985 when nineteen year old John Lindqvist tried to make his name as a magician, a street performer hoping to achieve success, supplementing his paltry takings by shoplifting and practicing his tricks through the night in his tiny, shadowy apartment, the blinds drawn as he slept through the day, his only company the voice of the random stranger on the other end of the telephone who asked abstract questions but never offered any answers.
Told in retrospect with no chapter divides, there is a sensation of tumbling through the narrative with no grasp of time, a melancholy exploration of the loneliness of inner landscapes, of unfulfilled potential and desires, Lindqvist writing not of the downfall of those who are joyful but of those who are miserable from the outset, but he does so beautifully.
The teenage Lindqvist a magician who practices his tricks in front of a mirror until they are achieved without any hint of the true action underlying them, in this grander reflection is Lindqvist the writer practicing an act of misdirection, a deft sleight-of-hand to delight and possibly shock and horrify his readers?
The book conveying a sensory experience as he explores his environment and attempts to shape his future through his magic, he instead finds that it is he who is changed, and like Lindqvist’s other work the mundane is imbued with personality, a lurking, brooding presence of menace and unknown intent which takes form in the shower block and laundry room across the courtyard.
That presence gives Lindqvist and his neighbours a sense of peace and belonging but it demands a price which they pay in the only way they know how, with increasing quantities of blood, and each of them responds in a different way of self-destruction as they try to attain the perfection in the real world which matches the fantasy of their desires.
The small community brought together, what they create is made of nightmares and shaped by their subconscious, its malleable form reshaped by how it is seen by those around it even as it seeks its own true shape, and conveying aspects of Lovecraft and Barker in his descriptions while Lindqvist deigns to offer some scant hope in the bleakness, even he seems surprised by it.
A novel of unquenchable longing through the winter months close to the Arctic Circle, with I Always Find You Lindqvist offers no explanation for the events he describes nor how they tie with his own life or the established events which form the final part of the narrative, no clue as to what is real and what is illusion, the calculated patter of the magician as he passes his hat for payment to an audience too timid to question what they have witnessed for fear the response might dissolve any barrier which has so far kept them safe.