I haven’t reviewed a book for my blog in a while, so I was delighted when Pereine Press offered to send me a copy of Andrea Lundgren’s Nordic Fauna, translated from the Swedish by John Litell. And it has been something of a challenge to digest and describe the brilliant Nordic Fauna in any kind of coherent way!
Not really knowing what to expect, and approaching the short story collection with absolutely no preconceptions, I was pleased to find Lundgren’s writing surreal, uncanny and, above all, highly readable. From a woman on a train heading into the forest, to a father haunted by the nocturnal visits of an elusive bird, to a university professor obsessed with his life’s work on angels, Nordic Fauna is completely weird and wonderful. And best of all – it is exactly my cup of tea. Almost weirder than Daisy Johnson’s Fen (and this is a feat in itself), almost stranger than Samanta Schweblin’s Mouthful of Birds.
Reading Lundgren’s stories was something of an immersive experience and it’s been a long time since I’ve had such visceral reactions to writing. The Cat is unsettling – a daughter watchers her mother retreat away and is left to face the violence in her brother and father. The Father Hole is nothing short of horrifying, following the twisted relationship between a father and daughter, the pain and trauma that we carry with us, and how it manifests itself. The Girlfriend is just plain bizarre – with an ending that literally made me gasp and laugh out loud.
Throughout the collection, I felt as if I was on edge, reading each next line with one eye closed, half wincing at the prospect of the strangeness to come. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I completely understood all of the stories – and I’m not sure if I am meant to. Ultimately, I was left with a strange feeling inside – that something isn’t right, that there are liminal spaces wherever you look – gaps in which people and things can fall and come through. Things that can’t be explained.
I think my favourite story has to be How Things Come to Seem which tackles one of my favourite ideas – that nature can swallow you up, that ‘”Deep down, we’re all forest walkers.”‘ This particular story reminded me of my own writing and of the very human fear – of not being able to understand what is most natural, and ultimately least understandable. The gigantic dark forests of Northern Sweden provide the perfect place to examine this inherent fear, and the perfect place to get lost.
So, if you fancy a short, strange, compact collection of short stories, settle down with Nordic Fauna and prepare to get lost.
Nordic Fauna by Andrea Lundgren is published by Peirene Press and available to buy now.