Book review: Ankomst by Gøhril Gabrielsen

An unexpected Norwegian isolation-horror that explores human and supernatural torment

Receiving a book through the post is even more of a thrill during lockdown. Ankomst, the latest from Peirene Press (a publisher that specialises in European translations) is another gem.

This Norwegian novel follows an environmental scientist who has travelled to a remote site in Norway, cut off from all society, to study seabird populations and wait for her partner to join her there.

From the sleeve, I thought this was going to be a “man versus nature” story – like The Old Man and the Sea – but a woman… in the snow. There is an element of that but this is far more grounded and less allegorical. Unexpectedly, this turned out to be a horror.

There are a lot of common horror elements in this book and quite a few comparisons to be made. The setting of The Thing, the cruel natural environment of Annihilation, the isolation and supernatural elements of The Shining

It also has it a lot in common thematically with space thrillers, like Gravity, The Martian or Moon. I thought this was a pretty smart observation until Gabrielsen called this out herself about half way through the novel:

“It strikes me that fieldwork has many similarities to a stay on a space station. Like an astronaut I find myself in a desolate place, lonely and infinitely far from people, utterly dependent on technology as my sole link to the world beyond.”

As in many of those films, Gabrielsen’s protagonist has chosen to withdraw from normal society and internally struggles with that choice and how to justify her motivations to herself. It becomes clear that she has fled one type of horror, only to find herself in another. As in Invisible Man, the unflinching portrayal of the abusive relationship she escaped from is equally as disturbing as the (suggested) supernatural elements of the story.

All of these comparisons are to say that Ankomst is a very compelling, human horror that stands up against any of the stories that are mentioned above. It’s Peirene at its best – delivering a novel I never could have read, and by all rights could be a modern classic. When the final Ankomst (arrival) of the novel does come I am not sure I was fully satisfied but on the whole this is a captivating, thrilling story, that was hard to put down.

Did you enjoy this blog, the book that features on it, or have any good reading tips of your own? Please share on your social medium of choice! @Shoot_thePoets

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