Fiction Reviews

The Kindness

(2020/2023) John Lindqvist, Riverrun, Ł30, hrdbk, 808pp, ISBN 978-1-529-41905-4


A big sprawling novel, originally published in 2020 with this English edition 2023, by the author of the acclaimed, twice filmed 2004 vampire novel, Let The Right One In. (the film versions are from 2008 and 2010 respectively).

This book has multiple threads that ultimately fail to knot together, and feels quite padded out. The title thread is the erosion of kindness and human decency in a seemingly peaceful Swedish city after a cargo container full of dead refugees is discovered and opened by the river. As the container seals are released, some strange supernatural fluid escapes into the river with many getting near it starting to act aggressively and violently.

The other key thread is the young adult protagonists discovering they have clairvoyant and clairaudient visions of pending tragedies which they struggle to avert, and in some cases, find their efforts to prevent disasters actually contribute to them happening.

A family of girls discover they are descended from a long line of gifted or cursed Sybil’s while Max, the male hero’s visions are left without an origin story. Much of the central narrative involves the characters learning to channel their gifts to work together to work out what their visions mean, and their conflict with the authorities who want them to explain how they tend to get involved in so much carnage.

With the container sludge spreading madness and civil unrest and serving as a Pandora’s Box style catalyst, the story meanders and sidetracks through numerous often unresolved cul-de-sac sub-plots. One character gets in debt to the town’s Kray Twin-like loan sharks and ends up gun-running for them, (giving out many guns used in crimes occurring as the Kindness in the town evaporates), ladies with large bodies are fat shamed, several women are seΧually assaulted, leading to revenge attacks and suicide attempts.

Another key character, Johan, has written racist propaganda on blog sites only to find that far-right extremists have taken memes he has generated into direct violent confrontation with migrants in the city and that his beliefs could jeopardize his relationship with Anna, who admires his writing until she discovers his racist work.

Characters spend much time playing role playing games and there is a city wide infatuation with Pokémon Go. Others play Mario Kart.

Much of this simply does not gel together, and there are long sequences of text where virtually no plot development goes on, while the final conflict is so underwhelming I felt cheated and it left me thinking, ‘is that it?’

This could quite easily be cut by up to 50% and its finale needs much more serious punch, while the fates of some characters needs to be at least attempted (what becomes of the town’s resident gangsters is never stated).

There is some fine writing and character development, but much is left going nowhere. Sometimes the solutions to problems seems somewhat simplistic. Characters discover a friend was seΧually abused and go round to pulverise the assailant with baseball bats. A bully is beaten up and thrown in the sea, moaning a great deal about this destroying his cell phone. The main story is a set of book ends to the various soap opera tensions that make Norrtatje seem a wretched place even before the kindness begins to fade, leading to the town being just like anywhere else in a modern decaying civilisation without any mysterious box having to be opened to cause the people to turn cruel and depressed.

Arthur Chappell


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