Let the Right One In is a vampire novel unlike any other, from Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist. Fans of the movie may wish to be hesitant when reading the book, as it is far more gruesome, twisted, and disturbing than the screen version. Let the Right One In is a story about a dead-end Swedish town, Blackeberg, set in the early ‘80s, during the Cold War, where the inhabitants go about their daily, hopeless lives. Then there’s the subplot involving vampires.
Oskar is a twelve-year-old boy who is very disturbed. His mother pays little attention to him, doing her best to raise him while she works everyday; as for his laid-back, hippie father, Oskar sees him all but rarely, but when he does, they are his favorite moments. He is a chubby boy who is constantly bullied at school. In the evenings, he spends his time in the icy-cold wooded park near to his home, stabbing the trunks of trees with his knife, imagining them as the bullies faces. Then he meets Eli.
Eli is young girl, about his age, who moves into his apartment block with a man who isn’t her father, but has an unhealthy relationship with her that Oskar isn’t exactly clear about. Eli is very pale, with big eyes, and never seems to be wearing enough clothing, always cold, and is confused about simple things in life that any normal person would understand easily.
Håkan is the very strange man who lives with Eli, doing absolutely everything he can to make her look at him, to touch him; for those rare moments when he gets to see her naked, they are a delight. In return, when she is hungry, he goes out with his instruments and hunts for an unassuming subject who likely won’t be missed. With his tank of gas, he renders the victim unconscious, hanging them upside down, slits their throat, and collects their blood. To feed Eli. So she will like him and perhaps touch him.
But sometimes he doesn’t bring her the blood quick enough, and she can’t wait any longer, and heads out to hunt on her own, killing, and drinking. The bodies are discovered and the police are investigating. Then Håkan is caught trying to take another victim. Meanwhile Oskar is still dealing with the bullies, wanting to fight back, to hurt them, maybe even kill them.
What makes Let the Right One In so disturbing is Lindqvist’s ordinary portrayal of everyday life activities in a doomed town, coupled with scenes of shock and depravity. While the book ends on an unclear note and little resolution for the hopeless town off Blackeberg, dark thoughts and eerie images unavoidably continue to swirl in the mind of the reader. It is a book that will stay with you longer after you have finished it, whether you want it to or not.
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Originally written on March 19th 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.