Saturday, September 4, 2010
In Which Trai Reviews 'Let the Right One In'
The Book: Let the Right One In
The Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist
How I Found It: The rave reviews for the 2008 movie made me curious back then, and the upcoming American remake (due October 1st) inspired me to finally pick this one up. Given the remake's impending release, the book was just rereleased this Tuesday with a cool new cover and the original title, Let Me In.
The Review: All I can say is, this is the first time I have ever closed a book and thought, "[expletive], that's terrifying!" I am never going to trust small children again. And between this and Stieg Larsson, I am damn sure I am never going to visit Sweden.
The story rightly deserves the praise it has received--I can't speak yet for the film, which I haven't seen, but I hopefully will be able to in a few days. Meanwhile, I can say that this is one of the most carefully-constructed vampire tales I've ever read, and though some have suggested that trimming could have helped the story, I'm at a loss as to how that could have been done without sacrificing the narrative's interrelated events. Some tout this as more fiction than horror, and I can see their point, but some of the images in this book got to me far more than most would, so for this reader, it's horror.
The story takes place in Blackeberg, a small Swedish suburb that's described as having "no history." Oskar is 12 years old and relentlessly bullied by boys in his class who want to punish him just for existing. He shoplifts to feel alive and stabs trees to take out his aggression against his attackers. He's also fascinated by horror stories and murder. One such murder has just taken place in his town--a boy around Oskar's age has been killed and drained of blood, and the murderer hasn't yet been caught.
One night, Oskar meets a little girl his age on the jungle gym outside his apartment complex. She smells like death and doesn't seem to be bothered by the cold, and she's fascinated by Oskar's makeshift Rubik's Cube and puzzles in general. Her name is Eli, and she and Oskar slowly form a friendship. She advises Oskar on how to fight back against the bullies, and Oskar gives her his Rubik's Cube. Eventually, they decide to "go steady" in an innocent way.
Events begin to spiral out of control when Hakan, Eli's guardian, becomes incapacitated during one of the murders he commits to get blood for Eli. Eli has to begin to kill herself, but this leads to unexpected and horrifying consequences for Eli, Oskar, and the people of Blackeberg.
This was definitely an interesting take on vampire mythology and Lindqvist twisted some familiar elements in order to create his own version of a vampire. Eli's abilities and aspects of her vampirism are never fully explained, but that made it scarier, in my opinion. We know full well what Eli is capable of, however. This is a perpetually 12-year-old child who has to kill to live. That alone is horrifying. But in spite of this, Eli and Oskar make a pairing that's easy to love and is actually quite sweet. Lindqvist manages to make a completely convincing love story about two outsiders who are in the middle of unimaginable and fantastical circumstances.
Even though the story is about children, there's definitely some graphic content, sexually and violence-wise: Hakan is a pedophile and some sexual acts are shown, and the murders are quite violent. This is also the only story that I know of that portrays a vampire bite as incredibly painful (as opposed to the sexually-charged sensation that's usually shown today). There was a healthy amount of body horror involved; some of the descriptions really got to me and Lindqvist definitely had a good feel of people's innermost fears. His descriptions of life as a vampire got me thinking in a way no other vampire novel ever has. He manages to convey the desolation one would assume comes from being a vampire perfectly.
None of the characters are entirely sympathetic, and almost none of them emerge as good guys in the end. The bullies who pick on Oskar truly know no bounds, and the murder we get to see Hakan commit is grisly (so, too, is his ultimate fate). Even if Oskar and Eli's actions were at times unsympathetic, I still felt for them. I wanted Oskar to stand up to his bullies and, perversely, even if it meant murder, I wanted Eli to be able to continue to live and be there for Oskar. Eli and Oskar manage to bring out the best in each other in interesting ways, and I'm intrigued by how this will play out in both screen versions.
I would definitely recommend this one for fans of horror and true vampire fiction, with a warning for extremely (to me!) violent content and some truly disturbing implications in the end. Lindqvist is certainly one to watch.