Thursday, March 8, 2012

Let the Right One In

by John Ajvide Lindqvist
translated by Ebba Segerberg
originally published as Låt den rätte komma in
(New York: St. Martin’s Griffin: 2008)
eBook, 480 Pages, 1586 KB, Fiction

It is autumn 1981 when the inconceivable comes to Blackberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenage boy is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last—revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day. But the murder is not the most important thing on his mind. A new girl has moved in next door—a girl who has never seen a Rubik’s Cube before, but who can solve it at once. There is something wrong with her, though, something odd. And she only comes out at night…

I won’t lie. This is a book I have been waiting on for a very very long time. It has been in my TBR Pile for at least a year and now that I’ve finally sat down with, I could not put it down. What Lindqvist has created is a fascinating story of alienation, childhood angst and friendship that just happens to have a horror edge to it.

Though, I guess it is not a spoiler talk about this as a vampire novel, with the release of the films (both the Swedish adaptation and the American remake) everyone already knows that that’s what this book is about, but what I love about Lindqvist’s book is that the way in which he constructs the vampire mythology and morphs it to his plot. And what a plot it is. This is a vampire novel without much in the vampires. Oh, they’re there, but we rarely see the actual attacks. Everything is implied and done off screen (for the most part) and that makes this story much, much scarier than a story wherein the vampire is attacking and butchering everyone in sight.

That’s not to say that there isn’t any blood in the story, there’s plenty. But, by using fears of kidnapping, pedophilia and child murder and then making the main character—Oskar—a child, a particularly vulnerable child in his solitude and the tension is ratcheted up to eleven. And while we’re on the topic of Oskar, I found him to be a most interesting protagonist in that while you care about him and sympathize with him, he is a little on the distasteful side, but I suppose that that is part of it too, and perhaps some of my distaste for Oskar comes from recognizing some of my own twelve-year-old self in him, and that’s a little too close to home for comfort.

However, my own personal issues aside, the friendship that spring up between Oskar and Eli is very well portrayed by Lindqvist, who seems to have uncanny insight into the workings of a friendless twelve-year-old boy and as the friendship between Oskar and Eli develops, the writing portrays a real sense of longing and desire to belong, on the parts of both Oskar and Eli, that isn’t found in their current relationships—Oskar and his mother and Eli and Håkan. It is actually some very beautiful writing and the emotion contained therein is simply amazing.

But do not misunderstand me. This is first and foremost a horror novel, and there is plenty of horror and gore, especially in the last third or so of the book. What Lindqvist has done with this aspect is simply amazing ... especially as it centers around the characters of Håkan and Virginia, as well as the finale in the swimming pool as Oskar confronts the bullies that have pestered him throughout the book. Oh, and the conclusion is simply chilling.

P.S.: Apparently Lindqvist has written an Epilogue to the story titled Låt de gamla drömmarna dö(“Let the Old Dreams Die”) which immediately follows the end of Let the Right One In and further clarifies the relationship between Oskar and Eli, though to the best of my knowledge, it has not been published in English, and was only released in Sweden in 2011, so … looking forward to that.

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