A man returns to his childhood home in search of his missing daughter, only to find mysteries and curses. Anders and his wife Cecilia live on the island of Domaro off the coast of Sweden. One day during the deep winter, the pair take their young daughter, Maja, to a nearby lighthouse. They climb all the way to the top, where Maja spots something on the ice and goes to investigate, leaving Anders and Cecilia in the lighthouse. When the couple finally make their way down, Maja has disappeared without a trace. Years later, Anders returns to Domaro after living away from the island in an effort to retreat from the memories of Maja. He and Cecilia are divorced, so Anders moves in to the Shack, a leaning, shoddily-built cabin that belongs to his mother, Anna-Greta. Anna-Greta, a lifelong resident of Domaro, is dating a man named Simon, an outsider who moved to the island in an effort to rescue his first wife, Marita, from her drug addictions. Simon, formerly a renowned magician, holds a secret from everyone: he has a small, worm-like creature called a Spiritus in his possession. The Spiritus allows Simon the ability to find and, to a limited degree, control water. As Anders tries to settle in to his new life in the Shack, he quickly becomes aware that he might not be the only one there. He finds Maja's old beads dumped out on the floor of her old room, untouched since she disappeared, and a mosaic of beads begins to take shape on his kitchen table. Over the weeks he begins sleeping in Maja's bed, reading her old Bamsy comics, and cuddling with her old blankets. Meanwhile, a body washes ashore. The woman, the wife of a local man, disappeared a year before. Everyone seems surprised that the body washed ashore since, as Anna-Greta put it, the disappeared "never come back." Anders wakes one night shortly thereafter to find a life-size standee of an ice cream man standing on the porch of the Shack. Despite the fact that he knows it is just a cardboard cutout, he is nevertheless frightened, partly because he doesn't know how it got there. While exploring the further reaches of Domaro, Anders meets up with a woman named Elin. The pair went to school together, and belonged to the same clique, along with two young outsiders named Henrick and Bjorn. Elin looks terrible; once a famous model, Anders realizes that Elin has had plastic surgery in order to make herself look uglier. A few days later, someone burns Elin's house down, and she ends up at the Shack with Anders. Elin claims that Henrick and Bjorn burned her house down, something completely impossible since the two men died when they were no more than teenagers. Elin tells Anders that the pair didn't die, they simply went out on the ice on their moped and disappeared, much like Maja did years later. Anders wakes up one night to find Elin trying to get sleepwalk out of the room, and several nights later she succeeds. He follows her out into the cold and finds her near a house with a gas can in her hand. More shocking, however, is that she is with Henrick and Bjorn, who look exactly as they did in school. Anders snatches Elin from the pair and takes her back to the Shack, but the reprieve is short lived, as Henrick and Bjorn show up at the house and drown Elin in a small bucket of water. Instead of reporting the death to the police, Anders and Simon go out on the water and dump Elin's body. Around that same time, two longtime residents of Domaro, out cutting up fallen trees, attack each other with their chainsaws. And a young girl, waiting with some other young children for the ferry to take them to school, pushes two children in the water in an attempt to drown them. Anna-Greta shows Anders a picture of a woman who lived on one shore of the island, and Anders realizes that she looks just like Elin. Elin wasn't having plastic surgery to look uglier, she was having plastic surgery to look like the woman, who died a century before. Anders, Anna-Greta, and Simon come to the conclusion that the people who live on that part of Domaro are possessed, and that the water, or the ocean, is trying to get at the people of the island. Anders' mosaic on his kitchen table is completed, and he realizes that, just as the others were possessed, he was also possessed - by Maja. The mosaic is a map of the island and, near the lighthouse, is a spot of red beads that stands out from the blue and green of the ocean and land. Simon gives the Spiritus to Anders, and Anders sets out to find Henrick and Bjorn, knowing that the two are either ghosts or creations of the ocean. Anders learns from the pair that all he needs to find Maja is the Spiritus, and he takes a boat out to the lighthouse. Using the Spiritus, Anders parts the water and finds a massive set of carved stone stairs that lead into the darkness. He emerges in a netherworld where the drowned and dead of Domaro reside. He finds Maja and, unwilling to leave her behind, physically removes her from that netherworld and brings her back to the surface. Enraged, the ocean itself rises up and smashes into Domaro, destroying the town on the island and leaving nothing but a wasteland behind.
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Best part of story, including ending:
The characters are fantastic, well-detailed, and each one is given their own personality, backstory, and crisis that weaves together into a complete, engaging whole. Lindqvist manages to make something relatively benign - water - into a terrifying thing that doesn't need hands, a body, or even a mind to kill.
Best scene in story:
I enjoyed the ending, both because Anders got his daughter back, and also because the main villain in the story - the ocean itself - rose up to destroy Domaro and, essentially, end the curses that plagued the island.
Opinion about the main character:
Anders decides to return to Domaro because he couldn't stand to be away from the island and the memories of Maja, yet when he returns he is listless, aimless, and drinks himself into a stupor. The return doesn't seem to do him any good, but as we find out, residents of Domaro who leave the island either return or wind up dead - usually drowned.