Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

This is a title that I’ve seen bandied about quite a lot over the past couple of years – admittedly usually being entitled superior to Twilight in all ways (though if you know me, you’ll know that I don’t exactly consider this ‘superior to Twilight’ position hard to attain.) The only Swedish lit that I have attempt to read before this was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, but it lost me somewhere in the middle of the long-winded explanation about money laundering or whatever it was. I have, however, seen and enjoyed the Swedish film so I intend to reattempt TGwtDT at some point. So, anyway, Let the Right One In was chose as a book of the month read and this presented the perfect opportunity to finally push myself to read the book. I was interested in seeing how Swedish horror lit differs to American or British horror lit.

Before I bought Let the Right One In all I knew of it was that it’s about a young boy befriending a young girl who happens to be a vampire. As such, I expected to find the book in the YA section at the store. I went in, promptly forgot the author’s name and spent ten minutes looking for it before I gave up and asked the assistant whether they had it in stock. It turns out that I couldn’t find it because it was shelved under horror, not YA! A couple of weeks later, I tucked myself into my reading hidey-hole and opened to the first page. At this point, I didn’t know what, if anything, I was expecting from the book.

Presentation: My copy is a good quality paperback with large pages. The type is relatively small but well-spaced. There are 519 pages and each chapter corresponds to one day between October 21st and November 13th. Not all days have a chapter and some are very eventful so there are multiple chapters (day, evening, night) corresponding to that day. Some chapters are long, others comparatively short.

Story: Twelve-year-old Oskar is not a happy child. He gets physically bullied by three classmates who ensure that no one wants to be friends with him. On top of this, his body seems to betray him, often leaking from every orifice. Miserable, he takes refuge in a life of crime – stealing in order to get a rush.

Then one night his community is rocked by a shocking crime: a murder considered ritualistic in nature. The victim, a boy Oskar’s age, is found hanging from a tree, his throat slit, his body drained of blood. It’s all anyone can talk about. But Oskar has other things on his mind when he meets Eli, the girl who has just moved in next door with her father. Here he sees a chance to make a friend, to be someone other than ‘Piggy’ squealing for the class bullies. Little does he know that Eli is not an ordinary girl; her father is not her father but a man with less than savoury reasons for being with this child, doing horrible deeds to help her – deeds that have the community in uproar, clambering for his blood.

Thoughts and impressions: The book follows multiple perspectives through the events of the three weeks. There are five PoVs that crop up more or less daily and a number of others that come and go; some only appear on one specific day when their story becomes entangled with the whole. Most of the time I had no particular gripes with the PoV changes – especially as all the important ones come together in the end – but occasionally they were changing too fast and focusing on characters that would not reappear. Tommy’s was the only frequently occurring PoV that seemed to remain on a separate level to the main plot; I’m not sure Oskar and Eli are aware of what took place in the basement. I would have liked to have seen more of a conclusion to that bit.

The vampire lore presented in the story is fascinating, a different take on it all. At no point is the reader hand fed any of the lore and they are often left to join the dots or fill in the gaps. Each point is backed up by examples in the story, sometimes quite subtle so it you blink you miss it, others are the conclusion of a very long-winded plot point. Although I shouldn’t really be calling it vampire lore, should I? It is not so much presented as vampirism as an infection that Eli is suffering from and the infected suffer symptoms similar to the accepted effects of vampirism.

Right as of the very beginning of the story my heart went out to Oskar. To be bullied in such a violent manner with no one to turn to must be beyond hard to deal with. It’s easy to see why he latches onto Eli even though she appears dirty and bedraggled. She presents a new chance for him to be someone other than the loner that no one wants to befriend because he gets picked on. His family life isn’t perfect either, though certain points there are never resolved – for an understandable reason, mind, but the story finishes before that plot point is concluded. It took me a while to really warm up to him as a character though, especially with his game. The first time I thought it was really happening and I was wondering about his sanity!

As for Eli… gosh I cringed when I read what happened when Eli became infected. Everything considered, I suppose it should be Eli who is considered the antagonist of the story but she only ever kills in order to survive herself and does seem to feel remorse for her actions. In fact, all of the characters have darker sides balanced by their good (even if questionable) intentions - except perhaps the three bullies. This serves to give the story that much more of a realistic sheen.

I’m not sure if there’s really that much of a difference in the style of the lit itself. Maybe this one was willing to go one step further with certain taboo subjects but there are British and American authors who do the same. The main difference was, of course, the setting. It is obvious that the author is very well acquainted with this setting. He succeeded in portraying the beauty of his country – particularly when Oskar goes to visit his father - but at the same time he created a darker atmosphere to suit the tone of the story. Though filed as horror, for me the horror came a distant second to the social observation in the novel. The author focuses on real problems that every community has to deal with: bullying, paedophilia, alcoholism, broken families. A number of these scenes left me cringing whereas those when Eli is killing did not inspire any tingles of discomfort in me. As a comment on society’s darker sides, this novel shines.

The only thing that didn’t work for me was when certain Swedish words were dropped but not being familiar with Sweden or Swedish culture I had no idea what they were or how I should in turn view the passage where they were situated.

Style: A mix of styles and narrators can be found in this book. Usually the general third person perspective is used – following the story in one character’s head per passage. Sometimes it slips between two or even three PoVs in one passage, though. Occasionally the narration slips into third person omniscient and the tense here tends to be changed to the present to mark the difference. It took a little while for the style to really draw me in but it got there eventually.

Final verdict: I wasn’t completely blown away but I did really enjoy this book. By the time I was half way through, I was ignoring all my other reads because I wanted to know what would happen next in this one! 4 stars.

Extra notes: There might be some swearing, I got to the point where I wasn’t paying much attention to bad language. No sex but there are very strong themes of paedophiliaI would not recommend this book for younger audiences.


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