Sunday 13 February 2011

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

John Ajvide Lindqvist takes us to a dark place, a suburbia where disparate characters are thrown into each other's lives and vices are explored. Oskar is a young boy, bullied constantly, dreaming of killing his persecutors. One night he meets the mysterious Eli, and the two children gradually build up a delicate and tenuous friendship. As a backdrop to this, we watch as murders are committed and the people of Blackeberg come to realise that they are haunted by a vampire.

On the face of this, Let The Right One In is a horror story about a vampire - but it does not take long for the reader to recognise that this is, in fact, a story exploring the monstrousness of human beings. The latent urge in all humans to commit monstrous acts. We have alcoholics, drug takers, paedophiles and bullies. In that company, the vampire turns out to be the most compassionate and reasonable character.

The prose is both visceral and staccato, with a deeply tragic air right from the first word. And yet it still manages to evoke a feeling of hope, and establishes that acceptance and friendship can succeed in saving a young man's life.

Despite the aforementioned staccato rhythm, the story unwinds with a slow deliberate menace. It starts with a searing picture of a victim of extreme bullying: "Let them think someone had been killed here, because someone had been killed here. And for the hundredth time..." Gradually the story presents us with some grisly pictures of a man with his face burned away by acid, blood pouring from every pore of a vampire, cats attacking a woman. And yet it is still those shocking moments of human cruelty that strike the hardest and make you vulnerable to the power of this book's prose.

It is a grey, dark and unremittingly grim novel that has a great deal to say on the true nature of the beast. One line really leapt out for me as an illustration of what this novel is truly about: "All these pathetic lonely people in a world without beauty."

With all of the above said, I should comment on the fact that Let The Right One In also had me quaking as I read it at night in an empty house. It is deeply scary and some scenes will stay with me for long after this last page has been closed.

The characters, as a whole, were not people you would generally root for, but the warm heart of the film is Eli - yes, a vampire, but a character that is confused, overwhelmed, loving, desperate, and with a strong sense of being unnatural. Eli holds the novel together, especially the elusive friendship with Oskar - the gentle growth of trust, the giving of self-confidence, the childish games and puzzles, the laughter. Within this novel, that makes a very warm heart indeed.

In my opinion, this is a hard book to love, but I have a great deal of respect for it. I will remember it for a long, long time. It is well-crafted and beautifully-written. It is dark and grim. But above all it is a memorable treatise on the monsters amongst us. Both riveting and compelling - this is one book you just can't look away from.


  1. Great review! Heard a lot about the book and author, not really been sure whether or not to give it a go.

  2. I was impressed, but not at all surprised by this book. I loved it for its dark realism, its presentation of humans as compassionate and stupid and cruel but without going over the top to turn said humans into nothing but moral archetypes.

  3. Great review! I'm on the fence about this book still.

  4. I saw the movie last year and LOVED it, so I can't wait to read the book, I'm sure everything is more explored, Eli and her relationship with Oskar, Eli's "father", hopefully everything else.

    and dark, grim and deeply scary? sign me up!

  5. I have this, but haven't got around to reading it yet. Interesting that you say it is so well written, as it is an English translation from the original Swedish. is the translator credited at the front of the book? If so, you should add their name to the review, as they deserve a lot of credit. Translating prose effectively is difficult, as they pretty much have to re-write the book themselves.

  6. Brilliant review, shall look out for this one!

  7. I have seen "Let the Right One In" but reading your posting, I am eager now to read the book.