John Ajvide Lindqvist is one of my favourite authors of all time. His first novel, the vampire story “Let The Right One In” is, in my opinion, one of the best Horror books of the last ten years.
I feel the need to preface this article with a calm version of that statement; usually my discussions of modern Horror end with my shaking someone by the shoulders, screaming “READ IT”, before wandering off into the distance, muttering something vaguely threatening about the US film adaptation.
But, because I feel the need to present some veneer of being professional, I will not be reviewing one of my favourite books of all time, but rather Lindqvist’s collection of short stories, “Let The Old Dreams Die” - which does feature a short companion piece to both “Let The Right One In” and his zombie novel, “Handling The Undead.”
The first thing you notice while reading these stories is that they are unapologetically Swedish - they take place in an anchored location, written by a native. There is no way audiences could assume these stories took place in some vague part of America, the default Horror landscape. This is clear not only in the way Lindqvist uses both names and the pop culture that his characters consume, but in the lore of the stories themselves. The best example is the first story in this collection, “Border” - A lot of non-Swedish readers will be savvy when faced with clues leading up to a vampire or a werewolf, but the use of myths that have not translated into mainstream fantasy or horror makes the story all the stranger.
The next thing you notice is the reality of these stories. They take place in real places; run-down, backwater villages, apartment blocks and holiday communities. Places which are inhabited by real people, with real thoughts and real fears and regrets and real, dark, twisted thoughts going on inside their heads. Of course, this makes the unreality of their situation all the more pronounced.
Overall, the stories are beautiful, in that messed-up way that only Horror fiction can be beautiful. Lindqvist’s work has the most impact when he gets back to exploring the two fundamental parts of human emotion - love and death. “Border” is the true standout in this collection, but stories like “Eternal/Love” - where a couple battles with the idea of death coming between them, in more ways than one - are gorgeously written - Lindqvist’s fleshed-out characters and original, impossibly dark situations meshing perfectly to form a sickening, tragic story.
Of course, no collection can be perfect. “Substitutes” has a really interesting idea at its core, but is far too vague and meandering to keep my attention, and, in the afterword, the author himself admits he is the only person who likes “To hold you while the music plays”…but they are still worth the time it takes to read them. They aren’t brilliant, but they are still fascinating.
A lot of Horror fiction gets gleeful kicks out of eviscerating its hapless victims, describing every loving detail of the blood splattering off the walls - and there can be a place for that. But they don’t chill me the way that reading about an apartment block that is leaning slightly to one side (the vaguely Lovecraftian “The village on the hill”) can. Because, before the horror starts, I’ve spent time learning about these characters, why they do the things they do and what their world is like. I’m invested, therefore I am horrified, instead of waiting for the body parts to start flying.
There is one huge reason why a lot of Lindqvist’s previous readers picked up this book, and I’d be wrong not to address it - the title story, “Let The Old Dreams Die”, is a continuation of the “Let The Right One In” story. Though, thankfully, not in the way most people expected - this story runs alongside and after the original novel, and deals with a very different set of people than Oskar and Eli, the main characters of “Let The Right One In”. I obviously can’t speak for people who have not read the novel, but when I finished “Let The Old Dreams Die”, I stared into space for about ten minutes, just letting what I’d read process in my mind. This is Lindqvist at his best - discussing love, and fear, and darkness, and the terrible, almost insane things it drives people to do.
(Yet again, this cover is prettier than mine. Sigh.)