Four caravans, four families inside waking up to a horrifying new reality. They, their cars and caravans, even their pets, are no longer where they were located when everyone went to bed the night before. It seems that their world has somehow moved on, taking them away from their Swedish holiday camping ground to a new place that only superficially resembles where it is that they came from. Acres and acres of grass that is yet not grass. An endless sky, and the frustration of having no landmarks in a sterile and unpopulated landscape. But is it truly empty?
Rather than banding together for the common goal, it seems at first that the families are in denial. Not everyone, but then there are small children to consider. Life of a form will go on. Escape seems impossible from an environment where not even their navigation systems can detect their true location. When the dead begin to seek them out and someone in their own group seems set on sabotage, it is hard for the holiday makers to decide who or what might be the bigger threat.
The central premise in I AM BEHIND YOU is simply delicious. The environment is both alien and familiar and so are the reactions of the characters to their new altered reality. It is impossible not to project yourself into this novel and wonder what your own behaviour and thinking would be like – would you accept, would you challenge, would you seek and be capable of escape? Would you throw everybody else under the bus in order to keep yourself alive or would you stoically band together with your new comrades to fight the common evil that threatens you all?
A small or restricted setting will always sharpen the focus on the interactions of the cast (also small here) and this does present its own challenges. There needs to be a good balance of the present day conflict as to what each character will carry as baggage into their shared encounters. Lindqvist’s talent in exposing the truer nature of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances is evident once again in I AM BEHIND YOU. The horror lays in how quickly in this apocalyptic situation that people will show their true colours, acting selfishly in order to protect themselves and their own. Societal norms go out the window in a shockingly short period of time. Suppressed thoughts, emotions, traits are all given freedom to rise to the surface and ride over the veneer of civility we all struggle to maintain.
The “woo-woo” inclusion in this novel did tend to be a bit aimless and certainly wasn’t its strength – the work put into character development was. Not knowing what was memory and what the characters were seeing was annoying more than a few times. The ethereal slippage between the worlds was interesting, though more resolution or explanation would have been greatly welcomed.
Dive in and question it yourself!