Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
He is a twelve-year-old outsider; bullied at school, dreaming about his absentee father, bored with life on a dreary housing estate. One evening he meets a mysterious girl. As friendship blossoms between them, he discovers her dark secret – she is a 200-year-old vampire, forever frozen in childhood and condemned to live on a diet of fresh blood.
Most people have probably heard of this book by now, what the American film adaptation Let Me In recently being released in cinemas across the globe, as well as the 2008 Swedish film Let The Right One In. I had already seen the Swedish film before I read the book and thought it was one of the best vampire films I had ever seen. I don’t usually like watching the film before reading the book and to be honest, I wish I hadn’t this time either! It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the book, but it did take away some of the thrill of what’s coming next? The film is extremely faithful to the book and I have heard that the same has been said about the American version also. I’m usually quite annoyed when American remakes are made of what was already a high quality foreign film. However, I do realise that reading subtitles are not to everyone’s taste, and it is just another way of making sure that those people do not miss out on an excellent story! I also hear that Lindqvist is fully behind the re-make which definitely encourages me to go and watch it when I have the chance.
So what about the book? I have noticed this past week that young people in the bookshop in which I work, who have loved Twilight are instantly interested in this the minute they see it’s about vampires and they know it’s become a film. However, it should be said that this is most definitely nothing like Twilight. This is vampire horror at it’s absolute finest. It is grim, gruesome, chilling and so horrific in parts that it even makes you feel a little bit sick! Lindqvist has managed to take the old vampire myths and make it into something entirely original. He has made it his own.
Oskar is a young, lonely, sad boy who gets bullied frequently at school, has very few friends, has a very over-protective mother and an absentee father. The scenes where he is being bullied are very hard to read. I found my eyes welling up just at the thought of what Oskar has to go through on a daily basis. That is until he meets Eli, the strange girl who appears suddenly on the housing estate in which he lives. She is like no one he has ever met before. The friendship that materialises between these two is full of innocence, understanding and loyalty. Eli may be a 200-year-old vampire (which Oskar doesn’t discover until half way through the book), but she is a child at heart. She longs to just be young and carefree again and Oskar reminds her exactly what it’s like. For Oskar, Eli is the rock he needs in his life – the one person who he can start afresh with, be himself, not be the wimpy child that gets beaten up, or the kid who wees himself every time he gets scared. Eli forces him to stand up for himself, to fight back and conquer his demons.
What I love about Lindvist’s story is the fact that the vampire is a child. Vampires are often seen as dark, grotesque creatures that care about nothing but blood. Eli has the ability in her, but she is too much like a child for anyone to see her for what she really is. Eli does not go out killing people for the fun of it, she does not see it as something sexual or pleasurable. This is where Hakan comes in – her pretend ‘father’, who is really a paedophile so besotted with her that he goes out and kills people for her and drains them of their blood for Eli to drink. For Eli, blood is purely survival. She gets no kick out of killing anyone, there is no thrill in it. It is just food. The scenes featuring Hakan and his paedophilic nature were often too much for me at times. I found them really uncomfortable to read and this is something that is not so obvious in the film but only hinted at. But I really liked the inclusion of him as a character and his devotion to Eli.
This novel doesn’t just focus on Eli and Oskar however, Eli’s presence in the neighbourhood sets off a whole chain of events and murders that affects everyone. There are a small group of drunk men that the story focuses on throughout whose lives are changed when one of the men is killed. Although I quite liked to see how Eli affected others and it didn’t just focus on her relationship with Oskar, I did find myself getting a bit bored at times with the constant swapping of scenes and characters, and found myself just wanting to get back to Oskar.
I have to commend Lindqvist on his ability to demolish all the vampire cliches that are over-used throughout the fiction we read today, and the way he has managed to create something unique. Let The Right One In is so much more than a vampire story – it is about two outsiders connecting, becoming friends, being loyal to one another and proving the rest of the world wrong.
I will soon be reading and reviewing Lindqvist’s latest novel Harbour so if you’re a fan keep an eye out for it!