by Andrea Lundgren
reviewed by Alex Fleming
A father is tormented by the nightly cry of an elusive bird; a woman is drawn into a snowy forest in a fox’s tracks; a young girl takes her first steps into the occult: in this mesmeric collection of short stories, Andrea Lundgren explores the borderlands of the human and natural worlds to create a northern magical realism with a dark, earthy undertow.
Andrea Lundgren earned critical claim in 2014 with her second novel, Glupahungern (The Hunger), a book praised for its synthesis of mystical and realist elements and deeply evocative northern Swedish setting. In many ways, Nordisk Fauna builds on these themes: these six richly layered stories assemble a motley crew of fauna – from foxes and cats to blue whales and even imaginary pets – as canvases onto which protagonists project their innermost desires and preoccupations. Treading the line between fantasy and reality, Lundgren’s allusive writing hints at a plane that lies beyond the limits of human consciousness, one to which the natural world is better attuned.
Despite the book’s natural – in some cases almost supernatural – motifs, deeply human concerns are what anchor and drive the collection. Fraught familial relationships are a thread running through most of the stories, most notably in the form of troubled or toxic father-child relationships, as in ‘Fågeln som skriker om natten’ (The Bird That Cries in the Night), ‘Katten’ (The Cat) and ‘Fadershålet’ (The Father Hole). By contrast, ‘Det som sker med en’ (What Happens to a Person) and ‘Flickvännen’ (The Girlfriend) look at power imbalances in romantic relationships, and ‘Om änglars natur’ (On the Nature of Angels) explores faith and purpose in the face of a slow-burning despair. What links all of the stories is a palpable sense of anxiety, coupled with a deep desire for change or escape. And it is the characters’ encounters with the book’s fauna that compel them into action (or, in some cases, withdrawal). Crucially, the animals in these encounters are passive or indifferent; their key function is what they bring out in us humans.
Unsurprising, then, that the stories all have a deep psychological underpinning, at times delving deep into the characters’ minds. For example, ‘Fadershålet’ – the collection’s most dynamic, reality-bending story – draws us into the psyche of its young protagonist, from whose perspective an uneventful holiday with an emotionally manipulative father is ramped up into the stuff of Hitchcockian nightmares. In stories like ‘Fågeln som skriker om natten’ and ‘Katten’, on the other hand, such mental shifts are viewed from the perspective of helpless observers, uncertain of how to process or confront such changes.
The collection is written in a striking prose, blending a cold precision with an urgent lyrical sensuousness that reflects the stories’ opposition of the concrete and the spiritual. Lundgren’s writing is concentrated, infused with a depth and expansiveness that belie the stories’ brevity. ‘Fågeln som skriker om natten’ and ‘Katten’, for example, have enough plot and character development in them to sustain much more extensive study. The tone of the stories ranges from the dark to the thoughtful to the whimsical, but all feature a pervasive tension and a raw mystique, which are carried over into the book’s striking design and illustrations.
Critical reception of the collection has been positive, and I heartily agree with the praise this book has earned. These are fascinating, haunting stories that remain with the reader.
Natur & Kultur, 2018, 182 pages
Rights: Maria Machirant, Partners in Stories
Two of the short stories from this collection have been published on The Short Story Project (www. shortstoryproject.com)
Nordic Fauna, in English translation by Peirene Stevens Prize winner John Litell, will be published by Peirene Press in 2021