Do some research on John Ajvide Lindqvist and you will sooner or later read that he is
's Stephen King." Probably sooner rather than later, given the long half-life of quotable
blurbs. In fact, this is such a promising marketing label, that Lindqvist’s US publisher puts it on
the back cover of
Let the Right One In, the author’s debut 2004 novel.  

I can’t really blame them. Stephen King has sold roughly 350

million books over the years and has loyal readers all around
the world. What publishing house wouldn’t want a piece of that
action? And Nordic genre fiction—especially the dark and twisted
kind—has been in ascendancy for more than decade. If we are
looking to crown a new King, why not turn to Sweden, where
they still profess allegiance to the trappings of monarchy.  
(A synchronicity to consider: Carl XVI Gustaf, the King of Sweden
was born around the same time as Stephen King, and became
monarch shortly after the publication of the latter’s first novel.)

And, at first glance, Lindqvist’s work bears some striking

similarities to King’s. Let the Right One In reveals its author’s
proficiency in juggling different subplots and marshaling a small
army of characters in a kaleidoscopic narrative. King proved
himself a master of this pointillistic style from the start of his
career—check out his debut novel Carrie and admire how deftly,
even when he was an unproven novice, he managed to relate a gruesome horror story with a
quasi-avant garde style, fragmented and chronologically convoluted, without ever losing the
reader or the thread of the plot. Lindqvist follows in the same footsteps, boldly adjusting his
form to meet the needs of his content. Some of his subchapters are just a few paragraphs, or in
one instance just a single sentence. The focal point, meanwhile, constantly shifts among a half-
dozen major characters, and around twenty significant secondary personages.

The main plot centers on a series of ritual killings that are puzzling authorities and generating
overheated newspaper copy. Victims are found drained of blood, and even after tests and a
thorough investigation, the police lack a single suspect. Against this background, Lindqvist
relates the story of young boy named Oskar, bullied at school and dreaming of revenge, and his
neighbor, the mysterious Eli. Eli has the appearance of a fragile and sickly young girl. But looks
are deceiving. Almost everything the reader assumes about Eli will prove to be wrong during the
course of this novel.

From this starting point, Lindqvist branches off into a series of noir-ish subplots. These relate
to Oskar’s troubled situation at school and home, Eli’s dysfunctional relationship with her
apparent father, and the comings and goings of various victims and their loved ones. Lindqvist
rarely stays with any of these stories for more than a few pages at a time, but he relentlessly
pushes each forward over the course of several hundred pages.

Ah, but here the similarity with King ends. Lindqvist’s characters are mostly stick figures,
puppets to advance the story with little substance beyond their pre-ordained roles—victim,
bully, dupe, father figure, enabler, and so forth. The most well-constructed personage in the
book is Eli—here Lindqvist takes some pains to enlist the readers’ sympathies for his childlike
bloodsucker. And I give him some credit for anticipating a few of the memes of the Twilight
saga, launched a few months after the publication of Let the Right One In. But the idea of a
romantic, troubled vampire is hardly a novelty—you can trace it back to 1800 and Johann
Ludwig Tieck "Wake Not the Dead" and
Anne Rice perfected this subgenre some forty years
ago. Lindqvist tries to add a few new twists, but Eli is not a strong enough presence to serve as
the powerful emotional center to the story.

Compare this with, for example, Stephen King's
It.  Here King has such confidence in his
writing that he devotes a hundred pages to describing his key characters going through the
motions of packing and preparing to travel back to their home town—where the main action of
the novel transpires. Most genre authors would devote no more than a few pages to this
interlude, but King knows that his characters are so compelling that the reader will enjoy the
back story and the details of their various domestic situations. And he’s absolutely right. King
may be famous as a horror writer, but he doesn't need the horror to hold his audience—he
could have succeeded in any other genre or style, because his mastery of the building blocks of
storytelling is so complete. And when he does arrive at the scarier parts of the story, his readers
are all the more riveted because they developed a personal attachment to his characters during
these preparatory stages.

Lindqvist is not quite so self-assured. He believes that the bloody scenes of murder and
vengeance are the anchors of his storytelling, and everything in-between works to get you to
these key junctures. The writing here is mostly lackluster, and rarely goes much beyond
conveying the essential details of plot. And, true, plot is essential to a genre novel, but there are
plenty of horror and suspense novelists with strong, well-developed prose styles yet operate at a
consistently higher level. Check out, for example, the works of
Kathe Koja, Elizabeth Hand,
David Wong, or the aforementioned King and Rice. The best horror authors of the current day
realize—just as the medical profession learned a century ago—that mere bloodletting leads more
often to weakness than vigor.

Lindqvist compensates to some extent through his skill at pacing, the range of the subplots, and
the sheer boldness of his imagination. Some of the macabre twists—for example, the vampire
without a face, or the spontaneous combustion scene—will stay with you long after you finished
the book. Although, you may wish that they would disappear down the memory hole.

I’m not surprised that
Let the Right One In served as inspiration for two successful movies.
Director Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 film adaptation of the novel won a number of awards, and
spurred an Americanized version—the setting switched from Sweden to New Mexico—with the
2010 film
Let Me In.   Stephen King called the latter “the best American horror film in the last
20 years.” Alas, moviegoers disagreed. The film generated only $24 million in worldwide
revenues despite distribution in more than 1,500 theaters.

Even so, if you view Lindqvist’s book as a script treatment, a preparation for translation on to
the screen, it succeeds much better than as a standalone novel. His story possesses a strong
visual component, and the threadbare prose is no longer an handicap when the tale is projected
is realized in cinematic form.  In this instance, you are advised to go straight to the movie
versions, and bypass the book.

Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. His latest book is How to Listen to Jazz from
Basic Books.

Publication Date: November 6, 2016
This is my year of horrible reading.
I am reading the classics of horror fiction
during the course of 2016, and each week will
write about a significant work in the genre.
You are invited to join me in my
. During the course of the year—if
we survive—we will have tackled zombies,
serial killers, ghosts, demons, vampires, and
monsters of all denominations. Check back
each week for a new title...but remember to
bring along garlic, silver bullets and a
protective amulet.  
Ted Gioia
My Year of Horrible Reading

Week 1:
By Bram Stoker

Week 2:
The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Week 3:
Tales of Mystery & Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe

Week 4:
By Stephen King

Week 5:
The Passion According to G.H.
By Clarice Lispector

Week 6:
By H.P. Lovecraft

Week 7:
The Exorcist
By William Peter Blatty

Week 8:
The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill

Week 9:
By Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 10:
I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson

Week 11:
Ghost Stories of Henry James
By Henry James

Week 12:
Interview with the Vampire
By Anne Rice

Week 13:
American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis

Week 14:
Last Stories and Other Stories
By William T. Vollmann

Week 15:
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
By M.R. James

Week 16:
Rosemary's Baby
By Ira Levin

Week 17:
The King in Yellow
By Robert W. Chambers

Week 18:
By Daphne Du Maurier

Week 19
The Woman in the Dunes
by Kōbō Abe

Week 20
The Dark Eidolon
by Clark Ashton Smith

Week 21
Off Season
by Jack Ketchum

Week 22
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3
by Clive Barker

Week 23
The Silence of the Lambs
by Thomas Harris

Week 24
The Orange Eats Creeps
by Grace Krilanovich

Week 25
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Week 26
by Robert Bloch

Week 27
by Octavia E. Butler

Week 28
Demons by Daylight
by Ramsey Campbell

Week 29
The Complete Short Stories
by Ambrose Bierce

Week 30
Pet Sematary
by Stephen King

Week 31
Our Lady of Darkness
by Fritz Leiber

Week 32
by John Gardner

Week 33
White is for Witching
by Helen Oyeyemi

Week 34
The Wasp Factory
by Iain Banks

Week 35
King Kong
by Edgar Wallace

Week 36
The Castle of Otranto
by Horace Walpole

Week 37
The John Silence Stories
by Algernon Blackwood

Week 38
The Magic Toyshop
by Angela Carter

Week 39
The Other
by Thomas Tryon

Week 40
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Week 41
Ghost Story
by Peter Straub

Week 42
John Dies at the End
by David Wong

Week 43
The Great God Pan
by Arthur Machen

Week 44
The Cipher
by Kathe Koja

Week 45
Let the Right One In
by John Ajvide Lindqvist
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction

The Stephen King of Sweden

John Ajvide Lindqvist's Let the Right One In
Essay by Ted Gioia
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barker, Clive
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Bierce, Ambrose
The Complete Short Stories

Blackwood, Algernon
The Complete John Silence Stories

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Butler, Octavia E.

Campbell, Ramsey
Demons by Daylight

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chambers, Robert W.
The King in Yellow

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gardner, John

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hill, Susan
The Woman in Black

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Ishiguro, Kazuo
Never Let Me Go

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw

James, M.R.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Ketchum, Jack
Off Season

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen

King, Stephen
Pet Sematary

Krilanovich, Grace
The Orange Eats Creeps

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Our Lady of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Levin, Ira
Rosemary's Baby

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Lovecraft, H.P.

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Oyeyemi, Helen
White is for Witching

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Rice, Anne
Interview with the Vampire

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Clark Ashton
The Dark Eidolon

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stevenson, Robert Louis
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Stoker, Bram

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Tryon, Thomas
The Other

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
The Dragon Masters

Vance, Jack

Vance, Jack
The Languages of Pao

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vollmann, William T
Last Stories and Other Stories

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Wallace, Edgar
King Kong

Walpole, Horace
The Castle of Otranto

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

Links to related sites

The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter


SF Site
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog

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