Book Review: ‘Let the Old Dreams Die’ by John Ajvide Lindqvist

The imagination of John Ajvide Lindqvist is both beautiful and terrifying in its vastness. His 2008 masterpiece, “Let the Right One In,” turned the vampire novel genre on its head and showed – in the characters of children – the way society’s “monsters” can be quite human, and the way people can truly be monsters. The story of Oskar and Eli haunts readers long after they reach the story’s grisly end … which is why I raced to pick up this book of short stories that promised sequels to both “Let the Right One In” and the 2011 zombie novel “Handling the Undead.” But these pieces are just the icing on the cake – almost every story in this collection is gripping, creepy and hard to forget.

Lindqvist covers many different incarnations of the horror genre, including some new angles he has yet to explore in novel form. The first story in the collection, “The Border,” features an introverted customs agent with a unique ability on a journey of self-discovery that demonstrates both Lindqvist’s willingness to defy convention and his ability to keep the readers with him. Another early story, “A Village in the Sky,” follows a man who appears to be teetering on the edge of mental instability as he notices his apartment has sloped to an angle and then that his building is tilting to the side.

As this obsession begins to overtake the man’s mind, Lindqvist avoids a cliched ending and takes a risk instead. “Equinox” may be the most disturbing story in the collection, in which a woman who admits she has no “capacity to love” takes on a strange and grotesque relationship that shows the depths of her depravity.

While some stories take a bluntly horrific turn, others are restrained and instead create an eerie mood that’s hard for the reader to shake – even when nothing scary has happened.

A heavy sense of foreboding convinces the reader that something is lurking beneath the surface of these stories, even if we don’t get a chance to see it before they end.

While this would make stories seem incomplete for many other writers, Lindqvist deftly leapfrogs through different types of horror without disturbing the flow of the collection. In stories like “Itsy Bitsy” and “The Substitute,” one could argue that nothing really happened – but is that truly the case?

“Let the Old Dreams Die,” the book’s title piece, provides the long-awaited answer to the question, “What happened to Oskar and Eli?” In this too, Lindqvist defies convention – instead of presenting a straightforward sequel, he tells us a love story.

Instead of showing us Oskar and Eli in close-up, we see glimpses of them on the fringes of society … and somehow this feels more satisfying than a tell-all.

The longest, and arguably the best, piece in the book is the sequel to “Handling the Undead.” “Final Processing” closes the book and provides a satisfying end. The story revisits teen psychic Flora and her friend Kalle as they investigate a processing plant for zombies. The story raises interesting questions about the ethics of scientific research and the way we treat people we see as “other.” As preposterous as it sounds, Flora and Kalle’s mission to save the souls of the zombies – one of which used to be Flora’s grandfather – grounds the tale in a realism that makes it difficult not to relate to the story.

While Lindqvist’s tales transcend the horror genre by turning stories about vampires, zombies and monsters into coming-of-age tales, love stories and philosophical treatises, they also are deliciously disturbing, which is why fans of both literature and horror will love this collection of stories.