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Like no other vampire novel I have ever read.
Let the Right One in - John Ajvide Lindqvist
Member Name: Renza_e
Let the Right One in - John Ajvide Lindqvist
Date: 07/02/09, updated on 17/04/09 (328 review reads)
Advantages: Beautifully written, last 300 pages or so are fantastic, unique interesting story
Disadvantages: Slow start, poor ending, confusion generated by scenes and narratives I consider unnecessary
'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 :)
Summary: Prepare for something entirely different...Vampire style!