This novel, all 400 pages of it, from the latest Swedish wunderkind on the block, comes well flagged: the reviews in England and throughout Europe have been, on balance, quite favourable, though I haven’t read any in Ireland yet.
Story aside, and it is set in the mind of a young but maturing fast boy, Klas, who shares a farm with his small family under the tyrannical control of his fast on the road to becoming mad as a bag of cats in the mating season father, what is an astonishing achievement for this first time novelist, is the epic scope of Bannerhed’s ambition and indeed his achievement.
For a book of 400 pages where incidents are short on the ground, it is imperative that young Klas holds your attention from the off, and Bannerhead achieves this by the simple device of making you part of his world.
In this respect, rituals are important. To offset the imminent and transparent disintegration of his psyche, Agne, the head of the household, an obsessive compulsive with a fastidious interest in the weather and the manifestation of omens that nobody else sees, is also borderline paranoid, the son too of a man who lost his head after a lifetime of indentured toil to an unforgiving terrain.
As the narrator, Klas is the heartbeat of the novel and very much his father’s son, though from the off that he is acutely aware of the accruing madness from living on the farm on the edge of town.
With a novel of Biblical themes and proportions, the mood is essentially both light and dark, with unforced humour, but not a single line is deployed for cosmetic effect. Also admirable about Bannerhed is his discipline in maintaining the credulity of a world teetering on an etherealized abyss.
The observations of Klas, from the off, are brilliantly wrought: a spy in the undergrowth, he is an ornithologist with a deep understanding of the behaviour of nature outside his window, and this sensitivity, and sensuality when he encounters a blow in, Veronika, with a fidelity to the function of lists, opens not one but many windows to what otherwise might have been a stultifying and introspective world Scandinavian-clad in noir without end.
The Ravens is an astonishing feat by Bannerhed, a Swedish Moby Dick for our time, inimitable, and unlike anything you will read again for along time.