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Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In (I refuse to use the name of the pointless Hollywood remake) was an unexpected hit. A touching tale of friendship, loneliness and vampires, it showed that not all vampire films had to feature either violent blood-letting or teen-romance pap. Yet good as it was, the book on which it is based turns out to be even better.
Oskar is a young boy living in a grim suburb of Sweden in the 1980s. Bullied at school, missing his father and lonely, he becomes curious about a young girl, Eli, that lives in the same block of flats. Eli is also deeply lonely (if for very different reasons - she is a 200 year old, trapped in a child's body) but together the two form an unlikely friendship and change each other in unexpected ways.
Let the Right One In is a vampire book for people who don't like vampires. Yes, one of the main characters is a vampire, but vampire lore is not the focus of the book. Instead, it is a touching examination of how two very lonely children come to depend upon each other to understand who they really are. Of course there are elements of vampire lore (excellently) worked into the main plot: the plotting is consistent with accepted vampire folklore but Lindqvist adds a few elements of his own. So whilst vampire lore features, the film is really a coming of age tale about friendship, loneliness and mutual need.
The characters (already strong in the film) are even better in the book - more fleshed out and realistic feeling. There is more time to delve into their psyche, sympathise with their emotional state and understand what makes them tick. This in turn helps to make the central relationship between Eli and Oskar even more touching. We understand the fear, loneliness and longing that each suffers and appreciate that they have found a kindred spirit. Their symbiotic relationship is far, far more touching than anything the dreadful "Twiglet" (sic) series could ever dream up.
If you are going to criticise the book, you could accuse it of introducing a few too many sub-plots. These are all interesting and perfectly valid side-stories, but sometimes they get a little bit lost and you never quite feel they are all adequately resolved. This is perhaps the one area where the film is stronger: most of these subplots were excised from the celluloid version and it was a tauter, leaner tale for it.
In fairness, some of these sub-plots were probably also removed from the film for fear of upsetting audiences, since they touch on particularly distasteful areas like child abuse and paedophilia. Some of these passages are uncomfortable to read with things sometimes described in quite explicit detail, although in fairness to the author they are a crucial part of the plot and not just stuck in there for prurient or sensationalist reasons.
Lindqvist appears to have a knack for writing in a stunningly evocative way. Without resorting clumsy explanations or scene setting, he perfectly captures both a sense of time and place. The book is set in set in the 80s and that period just feels right for the story he is telling. Beyond a few obvious cultural references (the Rubik's Cube), there's little specific detail that pins it to that period, but somehow you just know. At the same time, there is a timeless quality to the book: this story could be set in pretty much any period and it would still work, because its central themes are completely independent of period.
The same is true of the place. I've never been to Sweden, but this feels like an accurate portrayal of life in 1980s Sweden. Again, the actual setting isn't important, it's more the feeling that it gives. The atmosphere is haunting and evocative; the setting gritty and realistic; the storyline convincing and touching. Lindqvist uses language effectively to capture feelings and describe emotions, exploring the central themes in a mature way, without becoming over-descriptive. Even though Let The Right One In is over 500 pages long, it doesn't feel like a large book. You become so engrossed in the storyline that you will read it in the blink of an eye.
An appreciate nod should also go to the translator who does an excellent job of transcribing the story into English. Beyond the occasional clumsy use of "one" as a formal pronoun ("one might even imagine that..."), the translation flows smoothly and if you didn't' know otherwise, you would never suspect that Swedish was the book's original language.
It's rare that I pay any attention to the review quotes that appear on the back of books, but one that describes Lindqvist as "the new Stephen King" sticks in my mind. Lindqvist's writing is very reminiscent of early King, particularly around the time of The Mist or Salem's Lot. His novel features that same tension, mystery and low-grade horror that just occasionally spills out into outright violence.
Let the Right One In is available for around £5 (paperback or Kindle edition), although if you're lucky, you can find a second hand copy cheaper. For once, though, forget the price: this is a book that's well worth its £5 price tag and one you will want to read again and again.
Let the Right One in
John Ajvide Lindqvist
Quercus, Film tie in edition, 2009
© Copyright SWSt 2013
I came across the book before the film and while I did find great enjoyment in the book and can wholeheartedly recommend it as a page-turning bona fide vampire horror classic, by no means is it as wonderfully idiosyncratic as the film. Seeing as though I rate the film as one of the decade's best - this is by no means a criticism aimed at Mr Lindqvist, as his prose and character development, plot-lines and pacing are all top-notch and of course his ideas and characters were essential in the film's birth. The book itself is far more typical horror fare than the film, with some truly gruesome scenes and a much more blatant expose of the paedophilia that was very much swept aside in the film. I can only recommend this whole-heartedly to horror fans and believe that readers who come to this after the film, will enjoy it and even gain more respect for the movie after seeing how unique and distinct its vision is from the book's.
Another week another vampire book although I want to say from the start that this isn't your standard vampire book. By standard I mean that it is not made for the teenage audience, doesn't include the usual romantic entanglement with a beautiful vampire and it certainly doesn't glamourize vampires in any way. Although as a reader you would expect most books in the vampire genre to be dark and a bit creepy, most do fall short of this by a long way, but this one really does have the right setting to make it truly creepy!
Written by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist in 2004, "Let The Right One In" tells the story of 12 year old boy Oskar and a centuries old vampire called Eli who is still physically a child herself. Oskar lives along with his mother and is a loner who is bullied at school and is too terrified of his attackers to fight back. His only joy in life is a morbid fascination with local and national murders where he keeps a scrap book of all the details that have been reported on. Then one day Eli moves nearby with her "father" Hakan, and he and Eli begin a unique friendship. It isn't long before Oskar realises that the bodies that keep being found drained of blood are to do with Eli and that she is in fact a vampire!
Its hard really to write a good summary of this book because it touches upon so many different subjects throughout the book but essentially it is about the relationship between Eli and Oskar and how Eli helps Oskar overcome his fears and insecurities. However, this story is a book that is definitely adults only, as there are some subjects that are fairly hard hitting and the author does not shy away from creating a shocking storyline for the reader. There are several instances that I can think of throughout the book that are fairly shocking but one storyline in particular is fairly hard hitting. This particular storyline involves Eli's "father" - not her father, but a human man whom she meets as she needs someone to look after her. Hakan is an ex teacher who is a paedophile and some of the chapters involving Hakan are really quite disturbing.
In fact, the book itself has a very dark quality; it's very atmospheric, the author portraying a very sinister world of 1980's Stokholm. Unlike most vampire novels, the tension, subject matter and atmosphere completely suit the genre.
However, it really did take me a while to get into the story and really "take" to the characters. Before Eli is introducted into the story, the story begins with Oskars lonely life where a bunch of bullies regularly humiliate him and use various mental and physical forms of abuse to get to Oskar. Far from being sympathetic towards Oskar's plight, I felt irritated at the way he dealt with the bullies and also a bit sickened by his fascination with all the murders. For me, it was plain to see how psychopaths and murderers come in to being with how his childhood was turning out, but still my sympathy was missing!
Although the story picked up pace half way through the book, the introduction to several new characters and various Swedish names had me quite confused at times and I had to quite often re-read sections of the book. I wanted the story to stay focussed on Eli and Oskar, but the book also had a second lot of characters, a group of men and one woman. Although I saw the point in this storyline as it linked to the vampire activity, I just didn't find it as interesting and I often found myself impatiently skimming these sections.
I would have also liked to have learnt more about Eli and felt that the story was often wasted by telling it from Oskars point of view. Eli, a child vampire who has been around for many hundreds of years, was fascinating to me, and apart from glimpses of her past that we see through eyes of Oskar (she is able to share her past experiences with him through touch), I didn't feel like I saw enough of her very different and long history.
The end of the book was a bit of a mystery to me too. Throughout the book I wasn't quite sure where everything was going to lead and even after finishing the book I was confused with what happened, and especially what happened to Hakan. I didn't feel that enough was explained and I felt the author could've spent more time focussing on the main characters to get a better understanding of them. Although I didn't dislike the book as such, It didn't quite convince me it was an excellent story to be recommended. Despite that, I would have to give it full points for the dark and atmospheric way the story was told which was totally in keeping with the genre. This part of Stokholm is depicted as a sad and dark place full of aimless people who seem to lead pointless and lonely lives - a perfect setting for a child vampire and its adult human companion. Vampires are supposed to be creepy and slightly evil and I felt that this was the most successful part of the book, as well as creating a creepy little vampire child, the author also made Eli sort of likeable or at least a vampire whom we could understand. I know this has been made into a (very successful) film - reading about some of the touchy subject matter involved is bad enough, but watching it on the big screen would be too much for me to stomach.
For a truly chilling an sinister vampire book, this one really hits the spot, but there are too many lows before getting to the punch for me to really recommend it.
Let The Right One In is a swedish horror novel that has been translated into english for a wider audience. It has also been made into a foreign language film and is considered to be very mature and adult in nature, dealing as it does with the legend of the vampire in ways that have seldom been done before...
Oskar is a twelve year old boy who is victim to some paticulary nasty bullies. These bullies make his life hell and Oskar becomes a very isolated and lonely boy. Then, one night, he meets Eli at the playground outside his building and learns she has moved into the apartment next door. Instantly the two form a strong bond of friendship that nothing can come between and slowly Oskar develops the strength of will and confidence to stand up to his tormentors. But something else is afoot in the local area and suddenly bodies are turning up dead and drained of blood. What is the connection between these events and the arrival of Eli and who is the mysterious man who shares her apartment if he is not her dad? Whats more, why does Eli only appear at night? All these and more are questions that Oskar will gradually learn the answers to, regardless of whether or not he actually wants to. After all, trhere are no such things as vampires, are there?
Set in the mid-eighties, Lindqvist's novel is as much a bleak, social commentary of the times as it is a horror novel, meaning that essentially it manages to succeed on a number of different levels. Lindqvist is so good a writer that I would even go as far as to compare him to Stephen King both in style and content. And this is not something I choose to do lightly. The tone of the whole novel is very, very dark and defenitely not for the squeamish or faint of heart and there are more than a few very disturbing moments dealing as it does with such issues as pedophilia, drug-taking, bullying and extreme violence aimed at minors. Vampirism, much like lycanthropy (or the werewolves to the common layperson), is treated here as though it is a disease or infection rather than as a curse that can be passed on, and by this manner many comparisons are able to be made between this and something like the AIDS virus. Victims are left confused and unsure of what is happening to their bodies, concerned about their symptoms and the descriptions of their condition are both frighteningly believable and at the same time credible. In point of fact, the whole novel treads a finely balanced line between what is acceptable and what is deemed bad taste and, whilst there may be those who believe it straddles that line and even crosses it, I think it manages to pull off everything it strives to achieve. Horror is not true horror unless it manages to disgust and repulse you and that is certainly the case here. There are some moments in the book, for example when we treated to a descriptive passage that relates to the consequences of a vampire crossing a threshhold uninvited, where I was truly transfixed and found myself cringing more than a little. The only thing that spoiled the novel for me as a whole was the rather brief and sudden climax that finishes the book off. I would have liked a more satisfying conclusion and more closure for the characters I had followed hence far but you can see Lindqvist is a firm believer in the old adage "always leave them wanting more" and you cannot fault him for that as it must have been a hard story to end the way that everyone would enjoy.
I have not yet had a chance to catch up with the film but one thing this book did leave me with was a strong desire to see it! I also will be looking to pick up Linqvist's next novel, Handling The Undead, either if I see it cheap or from my local library. This is one author I suspect it is going to pay a lot to watch out for....
The back of the book says:
"Twelve year old Oskar is an outsider, bullied at school, dreaming about his absentee father, bored with life on a dreary houseing estate. One evening he meets the mysterious Eli. As a romance blossoms between them, Oskar discovers Eli's dark secret - she is a 200 year old vampire, forever frozen in childhood and condemned to live on a diet of fresh blood..."
I write the back of the book as nothing is worse than when someone gives the plot away! lol
An avid reader of horror, suspense, and thriller novels, eventually they all seem very much of a muchness. However, this book was the best I have read in a very long time.
Whether it is the fact that it is set in Sweden, written by a Swedish author, which could make it a bit more colourful, or just the fact he is an excellent author - it is hard to pin down. The narrative is beautiful - descriptive, suspenseful. Although it is not a short book, it doesn't drag. When you think about it, it would be very hard to write a book from the perspective of a 12 year old child (though there were perspectives of adults) and maintain a sense of innocence which doesn't seem false. It is a love story - many different love stories (most of them tragic) without becoming a tear-jerker. It is a labyrinth of....who really is the bad guy? Thought provoking as one can see the points of view of everyone - adult, child, baddy, goody...all the shades of grey.
An excellent read!
A friend of mine recommended the film of this to me (which I have also reviewed) and, having thoroughly enjoyed it, I bought the book. Despite knowing the gist of the story (the film is reasonably true to the book), there was plenty more in the book to expand the characters and really draw you into the narrative. Whether you've seen the film or not, you'll be drawn into the eery, sparse Swedish landscapes and you'll feel genuine attachment to and empathy for the characters. You'll obviously enjoy this if you're a fan of the vampire genre, but it's such an original use of the genre that, regardless of your opinion of vampire novels (or in particular if you think the genre is getting stale) you'll find something here for you. My friend who recommended it liked it so much he has a line from it tattooed on his arm. That, if nothing else, should prove it's a powerful novel.
This is a novel take on the vampire theme by the Swedish author J. A. Lindqvist, recently turned also into a movie which was doing the rounds of the film festivals in 2008 and on general release in the UK in April 2009.
Both movie and book are deeply dark and disturbing. The main characters are the little boy Oscar, insecure and bullied at school, and the 12-year old girl, Eli who we quickly learn is not all she seems. She's been 12 years old for several hundred years. The two soon make friends and it's them together against the world. But this is definitely not a children's book and might also be inappropriate for young adults, because of its gruesome nature and its sexual themes.
While the movie is more streamlined and leaves out some of the less palatable and slightly irrelevant subplots, it is still uncomfortable viewing in parts, just as the book is uncomfortable reading. So whilst the film is extremely well made and the acting superb and the same can be said for the writing and the plot tension of the book, the experience is gripping, but not so enjoyable. Disturbing would be my one-word review.
And yet if I were to choose between book and film, I would read the book, especially for the emotional rendering of the final scene. It's unsatisfactory indeed and yet incredibly powerful, and with this unsatisfactory ending, all the reader can do is go back and read those final few pages once more and they are truly a fitting finale to a gripping tale and the one scene of the book that will remain forever with us. The film somehow didn't quite manage to capture the same emotional intensity of this finale, and yet I feel it could have done, so that was a little disappointing.
In conclusion, both book and film are highly recommended, though not easy entertainment, so not for the faint-hearted.
'Let the Right One In' first came to my attention as it was turned into a limited release Swedish film which I have yet to see but have seen many clips of on the internet. I tend to read a lot of vampire and 'supernatural' fiction, my favourites including Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series and 'The Vampyre' by Tom Holland. This book by John Ajvide Lindqvist is a truly unusual addition to the many vampire tales that have followed the infamous 'Dracula'. It is so different to other books that I have read I even feel it is quite difficult to review in some respects.
Basically, the story, which is translated from the original Swedish, centres around a twelve year old boy named Oscar who is viciously tormented by bullies and suffers various problems such as estrangement from his father and an inability to control his bladder functions. However, amidst his troubles, it seems a little girl and, who is supposedly her father, have moved in next door. He meets this girl, Eli, in a playground near where he lives and they very quickly begin to form a bond. From then on a series of violent and disturbing events begin to unravel with what appears to look like a series of ritualistic murders within Stockholm, causing panic amongst the residents. Oskar remains unaware of Eli and her guardian's responsibility for the bloody occurences, developing a strong if awkward bond with her. When he eventually finds out what she is, it is a question of how the friendship will pan out from there...
Before I begin, this book is definitely only for adults. The novel is set in the early 1980s in the Blackeburg suburb of Stockholm in Sweden but in my opinion it could have been set in any era in any place which was economically and socially depressed. The only thing which tends to remind you that it is set in the 80s are very occasional references to things like a Walkman, Kiss' 'Alive' album, a rubiks cube and the showing of the Muppets on TV. When the Daily Express referred to the book as having 'reinvented the vampire novel itself' I think this is a very deserving statement to make of the book. Unlike any vampire novel I have read, the supernatural themes are intertwined with a hugely readable exploration of the social and economic problems of a dreary working class estate, dealing with very dark themes such as bullying, paedophilia, prostitution, drug abuse and murder amongst others. Its treatment of the category of childhood is very interesting too. Whilst I am aware that Anne Rice toyed with the idea of a child vampire in her book, this book is very different in its treatment of childhood. Eli forms a bond with Oskar which is even stronger than most silly little childhood bonds we may have experienced. They actually seem to *really* need each other almost as if it was a physical necessity - they rely on each other. All the children are portrayed, most of the time, as very independent and distant from their parents, often leaving them worse off but in Eli and Oskar's case this is an advantageous position as they have each other.
All I would say is put your expectations of what a vampire book is or should be aside. Vampires in this book may not be able to go into daylight without bursting into flames, need to be invited in to enter a building and do really need to feed off blood. However, I would discard any ideas involving other vampire clichees, particularly about vampires being sexy and sensual - the traditional image of the male creeping out the shadows to seduce the helpless female damsel. This story explores a very sweet, loving and in many respects, very innocent, relationship of a boy and a two hundred year old vampire in the form of a child. It also includes a very interesting idea of vampirism being referred to as a sort of disease or affliction that takes hold of the creature's heart. I sort of wondered if this has any reflection upon the society Eli and Oskar are surrounded by, the depressed suburban area which most of the characters seem to inhabit. I suppose all of the characters are or become diseased or afflicted in some sort of way if only in a metaphorical sense, whether they are drunkards, glue-sniffers, disabled or simply just persons with too many cats (which in this novel is definitely not a good thing if you are in close proximity to a vamp). The novel very effectively portrays the supernatural as intertwined with various very human problems.
In assessment of its effectiveness as part of the horror genre, it really did make me squirm and some may even find it untasteful. Various horrible things occur from the self-mutiliation of characters (the most memorable involving acid to the face), violent murders and the horrendous way in which Oscar is bullied (threats to push him on to train lines and being submerged in water almost to point of drowning). At some points I really did get quite uncomfortable, sometimes to the point I thought Lindqvist had really gone too far and one of the significant characters, Hakan, is a quite blatant paedophile. Hakan is a nightmarish character (in terms of the way he preys on young persons) that gets more nightmarish as the book progresses. To be quite blunt, probably the most shocking scene (and I apologise if you're easily offended) involved an oozing zombie-like vampire with a hard-on and a child in the room at the same time. I will say that flat-out descriptions such as my own make this book seem utterly perverse. On the other hand, Lindqvist's writing style, whilst unusual (possibly due to it being a translation), elevates the novel to a level that goes beyond mere shock and his intelligence often shines through. It is beautifully written whilst disturbing me in a way I expect horror to do.
On the downsides, I will admit that it took me a while to get into the book and it is not until around 200 pages in of my paperback edition that I began to really enjoy it. From that point on it was a real page turner and I got specially caught up in the story of a middle aged woman who had been bitten by Eli (Well, it seems wrong if a vampire tale doesn't account for at least one person being 'turned').
The slow start of the novel was not the only downside. I found some of the scenes involving the characters other than Eli and Oscar very unmemorable and unnecessary and confused the pace of the book. I had very little clue what was going on at these points and hurriedly read these through to the Eli and Oskar parts (these unmemorable parts largely feature in the first 200 pages). Maybe I require a re-read to really understand what was going on here but it left me unimpressed on my first reading. Another criticism involved an actual apparent androgyny of one of the central characters that totally confused my perspective of the character and somewhat distracted me from what was important in the story - The essentially simple love between Eli and Oskar. If you read it you may understand what I mean by this but I really thought it was unnecessary.
One of my biggest criticisms of the book is that it does not have much of an ending. It was left very open and I had no clue about what was supposed to happen next and endings like that severely annoy me. It may allow the reader to use their imagination to construct an idea of what may happen for themselves. I also understand that writers can go too far in concluding stories - I consider the last Harry Potter book to be a very famous example of this with Rowling mapping out the future of her characters so that in many ways there was little scope for the reader's imagination to run wild. On the other hand, I think Lindqvist is somewhat lazy in his open, cryptic ending.
All in all, I did very much enjoy this book and deemed it a very worthwhile addition to my collection of vampire novels. I do recommend that readers approach it with caution as it is very adult and far from many romantic notions of what vampires should be. It is also a book that probably shouldn't be read if you are trying to uplift your mood as it is very nihilistic with its bleak wintry setting and dark, unsettling themes. However, if you wish to give it a try, its available on Amazon and good book stores like Waterstones for prices under £10. It's not a light read, is very graphic in description and it shall definitely require a re-read in the future but it is definitely unlike any horror novel I have ever read before. If I could, I would award the first 200 pages or more (the ones that drag somewhat)three stars and the last part five stars, but because I have to decide upon an overall rating for this book I will settle mid-way and give it 4.
UPDATE (12/3/09) ~ Just saw the film in an advanced showing at the cinema. Absolutely fantastic adaptation. If you don't mind Swedish and subtitles you should follow up the book with it. I know Matt Reeves (director of Cloverfield) is making a re-make but I'm not really sure it needs re-made. I suppose those who can't stand foreign language films maybe go see it. But I did hate Cloverfield so I'm a bit worried.
*~Thanks for reading~* x :)