Collection: Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

I was deeply impressed by Karin Tidbeck’s novel Amatka, but it’s possible her collection Jagganath (2012) may be a better gateway volume to this unique genre voice. This short, vivid gathering of stories is eclectic and thought-provoking, and showcases the versatility of the author’s imagination.

While Tidbeck is clearly a writer of speculative fiction, her work is slippery and interstitial; it’s tempting to call it genresque. In light of that, Jagganath’s opening story, “Beatrice,” feels like a shot across the bow, proudly declaring science fiction’s influence. This is a beautifully written historical involving a man with a penchant for an airship, and a woman who falls in love with a steam engine, and how these two people’s lives tragically intersect. It’s quiet and weird, gorgeous and heartbreaking, with a wonderfully conjured sense of wonder. Subsequent stories display a similar quiet eloquence. Some, like “Rebecka,” have the super-serious feel of literary fiction; but even as this story of a woman with suicidal tendencies deals with weighty topics, it also has a lightness and sympathy to it that is quite gripping. Others are elusive, like the short, sweet “Herr Cederberg.” And there are engaging, interesting metafictions like “Miss Nyberg and I” and “Brita’s Holiday Village.” Easily my favorite story in the collection is “Who is Arvid Pekon?,” in which Tidbeck’s spare, evocative prose takes on a funny, absurdist tone, in a tale about a man working as a telephone operator at an extremely odd exchange—and his job’s only about to get weirder. It’s disorienting, clever, and hilarious.

Overall, it’s a solid, interesting collection, its stories short but memorable and sharp, and it provides an enlightening window onto Tidbeck’s various modes and capabilities. If the dark surreality of Amatka feels too hefty an entry point, Jagganath might serve well as a  different, just-as-effective way to introduce yourself to Tidbeck’s distinctive storytelling voice.

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