Sent to me by Riverrun (Quercus) in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 07/09/17
Publisher: Riverrun (Quercus)
Format: Hardback, 416pp
Genre: Supernatural Horror
Summed up in a word: Blood
Lindqvist has been marked as a spiritual successor to Stephen King so I had brutally high expectations for I Am Behind You. There was also a lot of hype surrounding the book on Twitter and Instagram for this novel which piled on the anticipation. I am pleased to report that this is astounding read that explores some dark themes, shocking characters and an ominous realm where the inhabitants scandalous pasts are coming for them. I was quickly swept up in Lindqvist’s chaotic and tumultuous narrative. I Am Behind You is an engrossing read, if not slightly stomach turning (at times), that delves into humanity’s capacity for darkness, survival and atonement.
A supernatural superthriller from the author of Let the Right One In
Molly wakes her mother to go to the toilet. The campsite is strangely blank. The toilet block has gone. Everything else has gone too. This is a place with no sun. No god.
Just four families remain. Each has done something to bring them here – each denies they deserve it. Until they see what’s coming over the horizon, moving irrevocably towards them. Their worst mistake. Their darkest fear.
And for just one of them, their homecoming.
My expectations for I Am Behind You sat somewhere between breathtakingly surreal and a uniquely compelling read. Mainly because of the brilliant synopsis and exciting essence that the book projected on me as a reader; so not much pressure for Lindqvist. For the most part it really was both those concepts but I think my reading of this novel was a case of enjoying the journey but not the destination. I was captivated by the characters, the setting and the ideas explored within the story but I was left a tad perplexed by the final act.
I believe it is going to take me a couple of reads to truly get the gist of what Lindqvist is trying achieve with I Am Behind You. It is a novel that is left to the reader’s interpretation (maybe a bit too much) and with a shocking conclusion on top of that I was left slightly bewildered to how everything ended. This is based on my on personal views as a reader (softy, squeamish, lacking imagination at times etc). Despite my trouble with the ending I believe I Am Behind You is a truly stunning and horrific tale about humanity’s capacity for darkness, hunger for survival and being held accountable for/facing up to the consequences of our actions.
The narrative follows four separate families who have all been deposited in an empty featureless purgatory. Just green grass and matt blue sky as far as they can see, not even a sun in the sky. The only evidence they have been chosen to come here is a cross drawn in blood on each of their caravans; marked by a higher power who has big plans for them. Upon exploration of the physics and limitations of their new environment some of the inhabitants stumble upon a horrifying revelation. Upon the horizon is their darkest secrets, deepest regrets and even the possibility of salvation for a few individuals if they are worthy. These figures manifest themselves differently to each member of the camp and each is just as spine-chilling and paralysing as the last. Where can they run to escape these forces or what can they do to appease them and escape? As the threat on the horizon draws near, the group turn on each other and themselves for answers.
The narrative created by Lindqvist was top-notch and certainly memorable. His writing is thought-provoking, puzzling at times and definitely emotionally challenging enough to keep me reading through to the conclusion. Lindqvist has a metaphorical yet perplexing writing style that draws you in and twists you into the narrative; the writing jumps between shockingly clear and shrouded in a dreamlike state, it is a very intriguing writing style. The pacing of this novel is perfect, taking time to develop the world while also keeping the mystery within the plot unfolding at a reasonable rate. I found it hard not to rush to the end to reveal the books secrets ahead of time. Each development throws in another curve-ball and the story never really settles into any comfortable rhythm.
My issue with the story as a reader (who is also a parent) is that I found the third act caught me off guard and left me reeling. I think this may have affected my overall comprehension of the finale of the novel. I finished this book three days ago and I am still churning it round in my head trying to accept or understand some of the darker or more mystifying aspects of the story. I have to say that the plot is a bit more open to interpretation that I would have liked but that is just the way my brain is. If you like a story you can take apart and fixate on then this is perfect for you. There is so much speculation, analysis and reasoning to be had with the plot.
I am glad I got to see this new realm from many different views and that there were plenty of individual stories to delve into. The story is told from a lot of different perspectives from young to old and even an animal. There are heart-breaking stories, stomach churning stories, slightly evil stories, unforgivable stories and so much more. I spent the whole duration of the book working out why each of these people has been brought to a new hell and what each of the spectres mean to them. The vast difference in character types and back stories kept the story flowing and Lindqvist never wasted a word building this hellish environment.
The setting is perfect for this chaotic display of humanity. Unpredictable but plain and unsuspecting; hiding secrets that brings out the worst or best in the people trapped there. The characters spend a lot of time focusing on the physics of this land but we still never get a clear grasp of what the place really means; I actually appreciated this as it added to the mystery. Lindqvist leaves it up to the characters to reveal why they have been summoned here. I Am Behind You is filled with nuanced characters that kept surprising me over the course of the narrative. I couldn’t believe what some of the characters were capable of towards the end of the story. As tensions escalate, the figures on the horizon close in and personalities clash, people’s true natures begin to reveal themselves.
There are plenty of questionable characters to focus on but I actually enjoyed the love surrounding Emil and his mum/dad the most. That story made me smile, cry and everything in between. It had darkness and light. This was closely followed by Lennart and Olaf’s story which is filled with mystery, taboo and many other themes. I didn’t get on well with Peter/Isabelle/Molly’s plot line. That was too gut-wrenching and infuriating at the same time. Molly is a true enigma which is special being that she is 6 years old, but it is clear she belongs in this new realm. Donald and his wife provide the most in-hell entertainment and chaos. Each character has a meaningful presence inside the story and they all combine to create atmospheric and unpredictable read. I even enjoyed the Cat vs Dog moments that added a light-heart feel to events.
Fundamentally I Am Behind You is a seriously dark novel but there is plenty of different elements and themes for a wide variety of reader. The novel is mainly focused on the human condition and what we are capable of in the heat of the moment. There is abandonment, abuse, adultery (all the a’s) violence, contempt, sin, anger and good vs evil as well as plenty of other gritty topics explored within. There is also goodness within these pages and themes of belief, higher powers, family and innocence. Some of the characters who start off feeling damned realise that there might be deliverance incoming. Several characters such as Emil and Majvor are capable of bad things but are fundamentally good. Lindqvist concentrates on providing a deep and meaningful insight into everyone’s humanity. It is a truly remarkable read that will stick in your minds and pull at your heart.
Overall Lindqvist’s imagery and variation in story-telling made this novel worth reading and I am eager to read more of his work. I know it is a complement to be compared to Stephen King, and I do see the comparison, but I think Lindqvist’s writing is phenomenal and doesn’t need comparison. Lindqvist has taken a daring concept, fleshed it out well, created some dark and disturbing characters and has weaved them all into a captivating and morally challenging novel. I highly recommend I Am Behind You. It is unlike any other novel I have read in many great ways and a few troublesome ones too. Enjoy!
About David Ajvide Lindqvist
John Ajvide Lindqvist was born in 1968 in Sweden. After a career as magician and stand up comedian he finally became an author of horror stories. His books are published in 29 countries – among them China, USA, United Kingdom, Brasil, Denmark and, of course, Sweden.