Lake of the Dead, by Andre Bjerke

It’s time for me to get back into blogging about weird fiction! I really fell off in my reading over the past few years, due to the stress of political turmoil, the pandemic, and life in general. Fortunately, I’ve been feeling a bit better lately and have been able to delve back into the weird stuff that I love, reading before bed.

The first thing to talk about is Lake of the Dead, by Andre Bjerke (1942).

This book by Norwegian author Bjerke is a mixture of murder mystery and supernatural thriller, and the second to feature his psychoanalyst character Kai Bugge thrust into a deadly puzzle. The first was Nattmennesket, published in 1941, followed by De dødes tjern (Lake of the Dead) in 1942. The latter book was a hit, and was made into a film in 1958. This Valancourt edition is a new English translation, and the first ever American publication of the book. I was immediately hooked, as I often am, by the book’s spooky cover!

The novel is told from the perspective of novelist Bernhard Borge, who describes the horrific events that befall his circle of friends at a house rumored to be haunted. The circle includes pyschoanalyst Kai Bugge, literary critic and anti-rationalist Gabriel Mørk, stern lawyer Harald Gran, Borge’s wife Sonja, and brother and sister Liljan and Bjørn Werner. The eclectic group have distinct personalities, which makes each of them really stand out and their reactions to future events feel natural.

As the story begins, Bjørn Werner has purchased a cabin in the woods locally known as “Dead Man’s Cabin.” Years before, it was the site of a horrific murder-suicide, when a man named Tore Gruvik murdered his sister and her lover and then drowned himself in the nearby Blue Lake. Since that time, it is rumored that Gruvik’s curse causes anyone who stays at the cabin to drown themselves in the lake as he did.

Werner dismisses the stories and views the cabin as an ideal place to rest and relax. However, within a week of his arrival there, he has gone missing and evidence suggests that he has drowned himself in the lake, just as the legend predicted. At the urging of Liljan, the group all decide to stay at the cabin themselves to see if they can find out what really happened.

But once they arrive, they find that they may have gotten in more trouble than they bargained for: a strange figure is seen in the darkness, and strange sounds are heard at night. In a bout of apparent sleepwalking, Liljan almost throws herself in the lake, following after her brother. Bugge hints that he has an idea of what is really going on, but can he fully unveil the mystery before more tragedy strikes?

Lake of the Dead is a fun, fast-paced novel with some excellent creepiness built in. The descriptions of the lake, said to be bottomless and possibly the grave of many people, are suitably unsettling and well-written. The characters are well-developed enough that they are easy to visualize and their actions make sense based on what we know of their personalities.

As I said, this is part murder mystery and part supernatural thriller. The ending is genuinely unique, and very, very odd! It is reminiscent of the adage, “the supernatural is simply the natural that isn’t yet understood.” I don’t know if I found it 100% satisfying, but overall the entire journey of the novel was worthwhile to me.

So, a good start for my return to weird book blogging! Looking forward to sharing more in the near future.

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