[In the latest edition of Hell's Shelves, Rue Morgue contributor Alan Kelly grills Swedish novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist about his latest toxic tale.]
John Ajvide Lindqvist’s (Let the Right One In, Handling the Undead, Harbour) fourth novel, Little Star, sees the Swedish horror writer step outside the realms of the supernatural for a story which is equal parts Grand Guignol Gothic melodrama, unabashedly brutal Bad Seed variant, revenge-fuelled folk tale and scalpel-sharp dissection of our exploitative entertainment industry.
It’s hardly surprising the Swedish literary horror sensation has enjoyed the success he’s had. The author has an uncanny knack for turning tired genre conventions on their heads, earning not only critical and commercial success, but achieving cult fame with his 2004 vampire opus Let the Right One In, a coming-of-age story that utilizes – and reinvigorates – familiar fright tropes (vampirism) while exploring themes (bullying, child-killing, pedophilia) many of his genre peers would shy away from.
In Little Star, set for Canadian and US relesase in October, we are introduced to two little girls: The changeling-like waif Theres and the cruel, plain, spiteful Teresa, polar opposites yet sadistic soul sisters, who form a kill-crazy cabal of psychotic outsiders – all female, all teenagers, all with a penchant for power tools, Pop Idol, fake-death initiations and mass-murder…
Rue Morgue: You’ve stepped outside the realms of the supernatural and the fantastical with Little Star, yet this novel definitely sits comfortably within the horror genre. Is your work as much influenced by film than literature?
John Ajvide Lindqvist: It’s hard to say. I know that my images come to me in a very visual manner and I see my stories as a sequence of scenes. Also I watch horror [more often] than I read it, so yes, I’m probably more influenced by film.
RM: I watched a video blog with you talking about Little Star where you explained how the end of the story came to you fully formed. How did you write the novel? Was it the traditional way (beginning, middle and end) or did you build this world in a less conventional way?
JAL: To a certain extent this book was written backwards. For the first time with my novels I actually knew how it would end. So most of my thinking went into finding an explanation for how such a terrible thing could happen, in a believable way.
RM: I love how you turn genre conventions on their heads! It was vampires in Let the Right One In and zombies in Handling the Undead. Little Star is a variation on The Bad Seed, with elements of a nightmarish fairy tale. Did any folk/fairy tales influence the story?
JAL: No, I can’t recall any specific influence for this story at all. Introverted as it may seem, the only influence I can think of would be Let the Right One In. To examine that basic theme of love and friendship in a hellish world, but from a very different angle.
RM: You must have done an astonishing amount of research into European pop music and reality television shows. What are your thoughts on manufacturing pop idols and introducing children to an often ruthless and extremely competitive industry?
JAL: That it´s strange that the sort of thing that happens in Little Star doesn’t happen more often in real life. That some humiliated youngster should take to the power drill.
RM: Theres and Teresa are incredible characters. Which one proved more challenging to write and why?
JAL: Once I had gotten the hang of the Theres character, which took some time, she almost wrote herself. Teresa was more difficult in that I needed to portray a more or less normal person slowly moving towards the insanity of mass murder. I also wanted each chapter with her to feel like a finished short story. That took some work.
RM: The mystery surrounding Theres’ genesis permeates the text. We never really know what makes her tick, it’s this ambiguity which is frightening. Is this something you are aware of while writing, that you are tapping into our collective fear of the unknown, that otherness?
JAL: Yes. I had quite a few theories about what Theres is and where she came from, but quite early I decided I didn’t need them. That it would take something away from her. As you say, she is simply The Other.
RM: As a writer, did you feel this tale took you to murkier places than your previous novels?
JAL: Yes. It is my darkest story to date and the first one where I actually had doubts about the moral implications, wanted to soften certain things. But in the end I followed my original impulse and just went where the story led me.
JAL: I knew quite early on that Theres would simply be like she is, never give any explanation. I also knew that I wanted to portray Teresa’s descent into darkness without taking the easy path of making her a victim of a conventional dysfunctional family, but rather a “normal” one. How normality can make monsters of us. But I never think in a straight dialectic manner.
RM: Has there been any interest in optioning Little Star?
JAL: Yes, and especially from someone who would be my first pick if the movie is ever going to be made. All secret, as usual. But it’s an Asian director and I keep my fingers crossed.
RM: Finally, what frightens you?
JAL: Sharks. Losing my fingers. False people.
Alan Kelly is the author of the pulp fiction novel Let Me Die a Woman and the European Liaison for the Viscera Film Festival. A horror and alt.cult fanatic, he has worked for many print and online magazines, including GCN (Gay Community News), This is Horror, Planet Fury, Film Ireland, Butcher Queers, and Bookslut. He lives in Wicklow, Ireland and is hard at work on his second book.