The Hurricane Party (2007) – Klas ÖSTERGREN

Borders has closed in Australia (woot!), and in their final days, they were basically giving books away, and The Hurricane Party was one of them. It is a part of the Canongate Myth Series, which I think is a fantastic concept. Perhaps the best thing about this novel is that, even though it’s from Scandinavia, it’s not a gritty, confronting crime novel, which is a nice change from what we all think about when the phrase “Scandinavian literature” is mentioned.

The future of Sweden is not pretty. The world has barely survived an apocalyptic event, and those left are eking out an existence among the rubble. Hanck Orn is among the living, as is his son, Toby, the product of an awkward one night stand. But when something happens to Toby, Hanck must travel to the depths of the world to find out who did this, and why. His quest will lead him to places he never thought existed, and he will meet people not even of this Earth.

Hands down, the best part of this novel is the world evoked by Östergren. I’ve read a fair amount of dystopic fiction, but this is up there with the best. The acid rain that falls constantly means you must always cover up, and the sun is so bright, the phrase “no hat, no play, no fun today” takes on a whole new meaning. Some of the lucky people get to live in the City Under the Roof, but for the rest of the population, they must make do in a society that has no discernable government. Instead, order is kept by the Clan, whose rules are not necessarily binding, but it is for the best to follow them anyway. There’s a beautiful scene where Hanck goes to talk to the head of the Clan, the Old Man, but he has to join a queue. This queue has been standing for generations, waiting to tell their problems to the Old Man, seemingly unaware that they will never see him. It’s not just a scene about how ridiculous banks are, it’s a touching look at faith, and what we put ourselves through when we believe.

Unfortunately, this beautiful dystpoian story comes to a halt about halfway through the novel, when Östergren realises that he’s actually writing a Myth, and realises he’s forgotten to include any mythology. And so we . It fails to bridge the gap between myth and reality, creating a disconnect between the two stories. In all honesty, I think the main story would have been stronger, and better off, if the myth hadn’t been crowbarred into it. The biggest problem is that the two aren’t integrated enough. The eponymous hurricane party is, in fact, the incident that causes Toby’s death, and other than the fact that Loki is the one that kills him, it seems pretty arbitrary. Östergren spends about 50 pages talking about what a terrible person Loki is, and the events leading up to the party, but it doesn’t seem to add to anything to the heart of the story. Maybe it’s just my own unfamiliarly with the Norse mythology, but it rapidly turned into a list of names doing things to each other, seemingly with no bearing on the story of Hanck and Toby.

This is, above all, a novel about loss. What do we do when we lose the person we love the most? How do we deal with the fact that we may never see them again? Östergren shows us that, in fact, these people can always be with us – by telling stories. Storytelling is an important theme here – the stories we tell to other people, and the way we tell them. Many people in this world cannot read and write, seeing it as unnecessary, but somewhat ironically, Hanck is a typewriter seller. It is up to him to tell the story of his son through words, both written and spoken, and only through this can he ever achieve happiness. Or, at the very least, closure.

There are two stories in The Hurricane Party, and perhaps somewhat ironically, I think this would be a much better book if it weren’t a part of the Myth Series. Östergren spends too much time dealing with the Norse gods, and Loki, detracting from the reather wonderful story of a father and son trying to stay together in one of the best dystopian futures I’ve read in a long time.

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