I finished reading The Lost Village weeks ago. The delay in writing this review was not due to lack of interest. On the contrary, it left me with thoughts and feelings unexpected for a book billed as a mystery thriller. When I set out to review the book, I realized that I wanted to go beyond the scope of a straight-forward, traditional review.
Instead, I broke the review into two parts: a spoiler-free review and a deeper dive into the issues that most impacted me. This format may be more useful for both prospective readers and those who are interested in further discussion.
Today’s post is the spoiler-free review.
Alice, a struggling documentary filmmaker, takes a small team to Silvertjärn, a former mining town and site of the 1959 unexplained disappearance of almost 900 residents. Alice’s grandmother lost her entire family in the mysterious incident and filled Alice’s childhood with stories of the village. The novel mainly takes place in present-day Silvertjärn, told in Alice’s first-person, present tense perspective. This narrative is interwoven with the story of the village leading up to August 1959 from Alice’s great-grandmother Elsa’s perspective (in third-person, present tense). Old letters from the village to Alice’s grandmother are also included, but I discuss the storytelling further in the Deep Dive section.
Alice, Tone, Emmy, Max, and Robert (the film crew) have shared history, leading to tension even before they suspect they are not alone in the village. Unfortunately, until these relationships gain clarity, the pacing suffers. It wasn’t until later that I realized the vagueness is due to Alice’s own confusion about her relationships, and the reader is dependent upon her perspective.
I recommend giving Alice a chance, though. If you relax into the ride, the novel delivers a creepy experience. Sten tackles major issues in this book and still successfully builds suspense across multiple timelines, between characters, and within the off-kilter setting. We see the social dynamic of a bustling small town whither into something dark and horrifying.
There are some plot holes that still bother me, but further discussion fits better in my next post, which has spoilers. Here are some early questions that did nag me: Why didn’t Alice prep better if this story was her sole obsession for years? And do film school students really graduate without knowing the basics of handling camera equipment?
I love that this story is dominated by strong women and themes tied to traditional female roles, including caregiving inside and outside the family unit. In this tale, when the women turn to men for salvation, the results are catastrophic. Certainly the traditional patriarchal structure and role of the Christian church in a community becomes corrupted. You can’t escape the symbolism of motherhood: the only known survivor is an abandoned baby (not a spoiler), Alice is there to solve this mystery because of her own grandmother’s connection with the village, and Elsa struggles to keep her family and community together, expanding her role as mother beyond what she can handle. Gender power dynamics are big here. This is not a male-bashing story, though. Silvertjärn’s economy was dependent upon male-dominated industry. The action of The Lost Village actually begins once that traditional structure begins to crumble.
The Lost Village is horror in the modern Gothic tradition. It features strong female characters in isolation, complex interpersonal and psychological pressures, and possible supernatural forces. But it is the dark depiction of the dangers of group-think that is truly horrifying.
According to the inside flap: “The Blair Witch Project meets Midsommar in this brilliantly disturbing thriller from Camilla Sten, an electrifying new voice in suspense.” That is true if you consider both of those movies to be primarily psychological horror. I don’t think all viewers appreciated them on that level. The Lost Village is definitely about mental illness, manipulation, social stigma, and even how we use story to make sense of our world.
Fans of Scandinavian noir fiction may also enjoy this book. It was first published in Sweden in 2019. Film and television rights have already been sold. I’m not very familiar with this genre, beyond having read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo years ago.
I would love to hear what you think about the book, especially if you choose to skip the author’s foreword.
If you’ve already read The Lost Village, please read the Deep Dive post. I’ll go further into my reading experience of the book. I’d love to hear how your reading differed.