Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I LOVED this book.
I read maybe two or three horror novels a year, usually Stephen King. I had read positive reviews for both the Swedish and American movie adaptations and wanted to read the novel before I saw them.
I bought, Let Me In>, the American version of the novel for a couple of bucks a year or so ago when it was on sale as a “Kindle Daily Deal” on Amazon. I had just finished reading The Bone Clocks half way through a flight to San Francisco and thought this was as a good a time as any to start it with Halloween around the corner.
There are so many aspects of Let the Right One In that set it apart from other horror novels. There’s the Swedish landscape; there are the characters whose paths cross in an intricate tapestry of impoverishment and addiction; the relationship between the protagonists Oskar and Eli; and the re-imagining of the vampire legend.
What I loved most about the characters is that none of them are completely pure; at some point or another you are turned off by their personalities or questioning their motives. It seems like everyone in the novel exhibits some form of larceny whether it’s minor theft or outright murder, and yet John Ajvide Lindqvist manages to find a way to empathize with them. The characters know they are “bad” and yet they struggle to overcome their weaknesses, and ultimately fail.
The Swedish suburb of Blackeberg, where the story is set, is a perfect reflection of the characters themselves—downtrodden and depressed. John Ajvide Lindqvist does a beautiful job of painting in the details of the town without wasting words mapping it out for you. My favourite set piece is the bomb shelter left over from World War II where the teens in Oskar’s apartment complex meet to sniff glue and plan their next heist.
Crime plays an essential role in the telling of the story. The narrative unfolds like a murder mystery, where the reader knows who the killer is, but the police and the residents of Balckeberg struggle to put the clues together for themselves, suspecting the truth but not wanting to confront it.
There are some amazing scenes in the book. My two favourite sequences in the novel happen during a school skating outing, and another where a hapless victim of Eli goes out to prey on her first victim. I kept turning the pages to find out how sick the author’s mind was as much as to see how it ended.
At the heart of the novel is the love story between Oskar and Eli. Like any teen vampire romance, their relationship is forbidden and doomed from the outset. As Oskar slowly begins to put the pieces together of who and what Eli is, the author threatens to take the relationship in a number of different directions.
Another fascinating element of the novel is how the characters slowly begin to accept the truth of the serial killer that has invaded their town and how they are powerless to come forward to the police because they know they’ll be ridiculed.
I highly recommend this novel for anyone looking for a new twist on the gothic horror genre. I would especially recommend the book to anyone that has already seen either the Swedish or American film versions, for no other reason than to learn the whole story about Eli’s elder protege, Håkan. I watched both versions back to back after I finished the novel. The American version was passable, however the Swedish version comes closer to the novel.
I read most of Let Me In in a creaky old Victorian house in San Francisco which only heightened the tension. I suggested you find a similar environment to feel the full effects of this novel. You won’t be disappointed.