Trolls is the sequel to Stallo Spjut’s previous output, Stallo, which followed Susso Myrén and her family as they confronted the reality that trolls exist, can turn into animals, and are being fed children by humans. Excited by the prospect of reading Scandi horror with folkloric creatures for the first time, I eagerly jumped in. It is clear that the novel is a sequel, as past events are immediately alluded to and discussed briefly, yet there is a sense that the reader should already be aware of previous happenings. I hadn’t read Stallo and so I found the writer’s reluctance to lay the groundwork to ensure the sequel also read as a standalone frustrating. Your first warning: it is necessary to read the first book to ensure Trolls reads more smoothly.
And reader, it is not an easy read. Although the novel launches straight into the plot, with a wolf escaping confinement, it feels like everything that happens thereafter is painstakingly slow. Chapters flit quickly between characters and point-of-views but the plot progresses sluggishly and little actually happens nor do characters develop in any way. Although I don’t expect horror to be fast-paced, necessarily, I expect it to hold my attention while it builds the tension and atmosphere.
But, perhaps atmosphere is what Trolls is missing. The prose feels clunky and forced and, at times, unedited (in the sense of flow, not spelling and grammar). Of course, it is difficult when reviewing translated fiction, to know what was the intention of the author and what was that of the translator but, for me, the style felt flat and read awkwardly or funnily. For example, there were many unintentionally hilarious metaphors for peeing, including: “Anders fumbled the fly of his insulated trousers open and drilled a glittering rod into the snow bank, where it quickly rotted out a steaming hole” and “he walked to the other side of the motorhome, untied his trousers, took out his rock-hard member, and peed while studying the treeless landscape”. On top of that, Trolls contains one of the worst sex scenes I’ve ever had the displeasure to read, one surely worthy of the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards. I won’t ruin all the fun, but a particularly strong line is: “It was as though he’d found something unknown and forbidden in the forest, which he could stick his cock in as often as he pleased.”
Another distracting element of Spjut’s writing is that a lot of his metaphors about people walking refer to disabilities. One paragraph goes so far to say, “The next moment, her mind turned to deformities of all kinds. Circus freaks. Victims of nature’s cruel sense of humour. Siamese twins and wolf boys. She wondered what had become of the most severely afflicted throughout history. Severely mentally disabled and misshapen like fantastical beats. Curious products of incestuous procreation that had continued unabated for generations. In isolated environments. The strange things that could happen to a coccyx.” Then… nothing. Back to the story. The book is full of random sentences and passages that appear to just be the author’s random thoughts rather than anything the character would realistically think (and even if it was, it doesn’t make for good storytelling). This leads me back to the conclusion that Trolls needed a lengthy edit.
At over 450 pages, I expected clarity in prose and plot, but everything felt open-ended and nonsequential, particularly the ending. Overall, I found Trolls to be an unworthy slog. With poor character development, little plot and clumsy writing, the book just doesn’t live up to its potential of bringing interesting Scandi folkloric horror to life.
Trolls by Stefan Spjut is published by Faber & Faber. Buy the book.