Home > Book, Book Review, Horror, Paranormal, Reviews > Book Review – ‘Let the Right One In: A Novel’ by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Book Review – ‘Let the Right One In: A Novel’ by John Ajvide Lindqvist

November 21, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Book Synopsis:

Oskar and Eli. In very different ways, they were both victims. Which is why, against the odds, they became friends. And how they came to depend on one another, for life itself. Oskar is a 12-year-old boy living with his mother on a dreary housing estate at the city’s edge. He dreams about his absentee father, gets bullied at school, and wets himself when he’s frightened. Eli is the young girl who moves in next door. She doesn’t go to school and never leaves the flat by day. She is a 200-year-old vampire, forever frozen in childhood, and condemned to live on a diet of fresh blood. John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, a huge bestseller in his native Sweden, is a unique and brilliant fusion of social novel and vampire legend; and a deeply moving fable about rejection, friendship and loyalty.

I’m not sure why this novel didn’t cross my radar before now. I’ve heard of the movie of course, but didn’t actually get to see it. Anyway, a friend of mine got fed up with me complaining about the state of vampires in today’s literary world – honestly, who really wants virgin vegetarian vampires who glitter in sunlight instead of combusting like a good vampire should? or who would honestly believe that any vampire (let alone, an adult) would willingly relieve high school again and again and again? And seriously, there is no way someone who has lived hundreds of years (and presumably has met more real women) can fall in love with a ninny-head doormat of a teen-age girl… (well, okay, if he has been in and out of High School only, I guess that’s understandable? But isn’t that a kind of torture in a way???) Okay, getting waaay off tangent here!

So, anyway, a friend of mine recommended that I read ‘Let the Right One In: A Novel‘ by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and I gotta say, I owe said friend a prize. I can honestly say that this novel is one of the best things I’ve read in a long, long time. It makes me want to learn Swedish just so I can read the book in its original form, instead of a translation. Okay, just to make things clear – this is a horror novel – and it covers such issues that may make it unpalatable to many, many people. If the words pedophilia, alcoholism, prostitution, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, murder, bullying make you react with horror and are guaranteed to give you sleepless nights and cause you psychological trauma, don’t even bother thinking about picking this book up. Okay? Don’t.Even.Think.About.It.

The synopsis above makes you think that the novel is just about Oskar and Eli, and I believe that from what I’ve been told, the movie does just concentrate on Oskar and Eli’s story. But the novel includes a wider circle of characters around them that includes a dying and decaying suburban community, peopled by sad, hopeless, deadbeat characters, many of whom are victims, none of whom are even the slightest bit sympathetic at the start of the novel. In fact, many of the characters are pretty vile. How exactly can you sympathize with a group of alcoholics, a young juvenile delinquent, a pedophile wrecked by guilt, a social outcast beaten down by bullying, and an inhuman vampire monster? But such is the skill of John Ajvide Lindqvist that you do end up getting inside their heads and yes, empathizing with everyone.

As I cautioned earlier, this book isn’t for squeamish people – it’s very dark, not ‘happy’ at all, and the descriptions are pretty graphic – which you would expect from a novel about a real vampire who has to feed off people to survive. And where a character turns into a zombie-like figure and goes on a sort-of-slow-mo-rampage. But it’s more than that – in many ways – the novel shows how human beings can be just as cruel to one another or to oneself. Whether it’s through a defenseless boy who endures violent bullying. Or a woman in love who has to endure the unthinking neglect of her lover. Or a group of quasi-friends who see no future and therefore take comfort in perpetual alcoholic stupor. Or a pedophile who struggles against his nature… (but eventually gives in) The horrors in this novel aren’t just the paranormal kind. And the monsters aren’t always human.

But going back to Eli and Oskar – they are the heart of the story afterall- and tie all the disparate characters together. And more importantly, these two children provide a kind of redemptive arc to the whole novel. The friendship they strike up is developed slowly by Lindqvist, and you can see how they eventually fall in love – in a pure first-love kind of way. There is one scene in particular wherein Oskar gets to see himself through Eli’s eyes – and he sees what he can be when seen through the eyes of love. That sounds too mushy for words, but you have to read it in Lindqvist’s words. Perfect writing. No mushiness at all. And the last scene when Oskar meets the bullies for the last time… Ah, my heart! at the twist in the story. But I hate spoiling things for other people… so you have to read it yourself to find out.

John Ajvide Lindqvist writes a long novel, but nowhere did I feel bored or lost – but there were many many times I had to put the book down to remind myself that yes, these are pretend characters… they’re not really hurting… It’s very easy to get swept up in Lindqvist’s universe, and the characters end up as these real breathing people… that it almost hurt me physically to read about what was happening. Now, that’s a sign of good writing, people. Even in translation. Now, tell me, should I watch the movie now? Or will I only be disappointed since the book was so good?

I highly recommend this book (to those who can stomach it) – the translation reads a bit dry, but the strong story and characters carry it along. Let the Right One In: A Novel is available on Amazon paperback for $10.85 (savings of $5.10!). If you’ve never heard of this book, add it to your must-read-list.

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