the Little Red Reviewer

Let The Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Posted on: November 7, 2014

let the right one inLet The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

published  in 2004

where I got it: borrowed

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I read this book because I really enjoyed the movie versions.  This novel took Sweden by storm when it first came out in 2004, quickly becoming a best seller with critics lauding Lindqvist as the country’s Stephen King.  It wasn’t long before a movie was made in 2008.    As has become a pattern with best selling Swedish thrillers, Hollywood wanted to do their version, and so an American version of the film, titled Let Me In, was released in 2010 starring Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee.  I’d seen both movies, enjoyed them both, and so was very excited to come across a copy of the book. The films are rather loyal to the premise and the first third or so of the novel, and the final few pages. Everything else is, let us say, glossed over.

 

This is mostly spoiler free review. I will not surprise anything that isn’t already revealed on the cover copy of the novel.   the “spoiler” that I do reveal? Not the biggie, not by a long shot.

 

It’s 1981, and twelve year old Oskar is a loser. He gets beat up at school, and has a bed wetting issue and a shoplifting habit. The boys who bully him might be impressed by the shoplifting, but they still torture him mercilessly, and Oskar fantasizes about getting back at them. And he’s not the kind of boy to ask for help.  One day, he meets a girl in the courtyard of his apartment complex. Eli is confident and smart, and since she’s new to the neighborhood, she has no idea Oskar is the local loser.  She doesn’t go to his school,  but they try to see each other every day.  He confides in her, and she contemplates how much of her life she can share with him and Oskar knows better than to risk a new friendship by prying.  He doesn’t mind that she’s weird, doesn’t mind that she doesn’t wear a coat when it’s snowing, or that she only comes out at night and has thick blankets covering the windows of her apartment. All that matters is that she’s not mean to him.

When a string of murders shocks the suburbs, the school kids are gleeful that something exciting is finally happening in their small, boring towns.  Oskar is fascinated by the stories that appear in the newspaper, and he adds them to his scrapbook of similar articles.  Another group of characters in the story, a group of drunks who hang out at the local Chinese restaurant, see the events completely differently, and are directly affected by them.

 

The murders have all been committed by Eli’s caretaker, Hakan.  Because you see, Eli is a vampire, and can only survive on fresh blood.  Every ten days or so, Hakan goes out to murder someone and drain their blood.   Why doesn’t Eli do her own killing you might ask? Well, why should she, when she can get some hapless desperate idiot to do it for her?  And that is exactly where and how Let The Right One In shines like a brilliant star in the sky.  This is an unflinchingly unforgiving and brutally honest take on how a vampire would be able to survive, on the kinds of decisions they would have to make. No sparkles, no seduction, no handsome sexy vampires who solve crimes and eat rats or drink fake blood.  Just lots of manipulation, and no happy endings.

 

Lindqvist faithfully followed the vampire “rules” in his creation of Eli. Among other standard “rules”, she can metabolize only blood, is burned by sunlight, isn’t exactly alive, and doesn’t feel the cold. She’s become a master manipulator when it comes to getting what she needs to survive. And come on, you’d help a small helpless crying girl who was crying for her Mommy, wouldn’t you?  It’s a calculated and grotesque manipulation, and she doesn’t have the energy to care that the cost of staying alive will destroy the innocence of this sleepy suburban town.  That’s pretty amazing too, how the seemingly small decisions of one person can galvanize and terrorize a large group of people.  If Eli sees herself as a predator, she’s smart enough not to mention it.

 

Linqvist smartly set his novel in the early 80s, a time when no one had cell phones, the internet didn’t exist, and people got their news from the radio and evening news shows. There was no CCTV and very little in the way of security cameras. Police detectives relied on their investigative skills and witnesses who told outlandish stories.  It was a very different time. It’s fascinating to think if and how Eli’s survival skills might have changed in the years since.  How would the story be different if she had to worry about someone snapping her picture with their phone, then tweeting the image and tagging the local news? I don’t know about you, but I’d read a sequel in a heartbeat.

 

There is a lot more going on than Eli and Oskar’s relationship. Linqvist jammed about four novels worth of characterization, action and intrigue into the novel, yet it never feels rushed or bloated. Let The Right One In has a large cast of characters, but the reader will have a hard time finding one to root for. Oskar is the only sympathetic character, and I pretty much didn’t care about anyone else.  You don’t really get to know Eli until the end, the other neighborhood characters are mostly just there to give the reader another perspective of the events taking place, and Hakan I was completely disgusted by, for reasons having nothing to do with the fact that he is the servant of a vampire (and, well, kills people for a living).

 

Let the Right One In is not an easy book to read. There is bullying, physical abuse, larceny, alcoholism, murder, senseless violence, and a score of other atrocities, the worst of which went completely unmentioned in the film, and for good reason.  the violence didn’t bother me, the drunk people making stupid decisions didn’t bother me. Lots of books teach me something important, and Let The Right One In taught me my tolerance for squick. As in, I have none.  What’s “squick”?  A combination of the terms squeamish and ick, squick is loosely defined as a source of psychological discomfort or disgust.  Not everyone will be squicked out by the same things.  I am squicked out by scenes where someone proves their dominance over another human by humiliating them sexually.   Let the Right One In has two scenes (one involving a pre-teen prostitute, the other involved attempted rape) that were incredibly squicky and therefore bothersome to me.  Note that I used the term “ squicky and bothersome to me”, not “problematic”. They were bothersome to me because of my personal low tolerance for squick, not because the writing was bad.  If you have a higher tolerance (as in, higher than zero) for squick, these scenes likely will not bother you very much, and in fact will add the characterization of a specific character involved in the first scene, and the already high tension in the situation of the second.
Was it a good book? Yes, very much so.  Am I happy I read it? Absolutely.  But due to my squick issue, I doubt this will be a book I reread. If I want to experience the story again, I will most likely watch one of the sanitized movie versions.

8 Responses to "Let The Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist"

Yes, a very tough book to read. This is the type of story that you really have to detach yourself from in order to get through it. Which is the opposite of what books are supposed to do LOL! I loved it, mostly because it was such a raw look at life, with that supernatural element thrown in. And one of my favorite “vampirisms” he uses in his story (and the title of the book) is how Eli can’t come inside unless she’s invited. Horrible!!!

Oh and I want to mention one more thing. I think it was the American movie version that had one of the most disturbing car crash scenes I’ve ever seen.

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“you really have to detach yourself from”

something I am incapable of doing.

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Sounds fascinating. Not even aware of the movie but I don’t watch horror so that makes sense. This one seems less horror though and more atmospheric study.

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I just saw the Swedish film a few weeks ago. I had no idea it was a book!

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As someone who grew up in sweden during those years Ajvide really catches the tone and … taste of the time. As I was bullied at that time also I can identify myself to a unhealthy degree with Oskar.
I just flat out refuse to see the movie, I would explode in angst…

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some aspects were maybe lost in translation? and by that I don’t mean the translator did a bad job, I mean since I didn’t grow up there at that time, I’m missing a lot of details.

you might do OK with the American movie version.

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Oh frick, now I have a dilemma. This is on my classics list (don’t even go there) but I think given your description I would say I have a low squick tolerance level. One half of me wants to read it – but the other half thinks I should change it off my list – plus, I have seen the film and I thought that was harsh! So, if that’s sanitised what will I make of the book….? *ponders* pfft … can’t make decisions today! Will think on it some more.
Lynn😀

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I loved the book. The characters also appear in a later short story in Let The Old Dreams Die, albeit through the love story of two other characters, which I enjoyed too.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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