This week I’m reviewing another of my favourite Vampels. Let The Right One In, (or Låt Den Rätte Komma In) by John Ajvide Lindqvist is a rather exquisite outing in vampire fiction. A Gothic horror novel concerning two twelve year olds would seem, at first blush, to be an odd concept, but it’s brilliantly done.
Oskar is a twelve-year-old boy contending with verbal and physical bullying. He’s lost, lonely, and in desperate need of a friend, but he has none. To cope – and retain some semblance of sanity – he takes refuge in his imagination and a version of himself who is fearless, violent and takes his anger out on unsuspecting trees in a nearby wood by stabbing them with a knife. This may seem extreme, but such a fantasy life is actually quite common for individuals who feel powerless and frightened in the real world, and does not (contrary to appearances) mean the child (or even adult) in question is genuinely violent or would ever hurt someone. Oskar is a sympathetic character despite his obvious issues, and it’s easy to fall in love with him and long for him to find a friend.
He does, in the form of Eli, a girl who appears to be the same age as Oskar but is in reality a two hundred year old vampire. The story is set against the backdrop of a mystery surrounding a string of bizarre murders in Oskar’s neighbourhood. The victims are a rag tag group of unemployed drifters and alcoholics, and as the story unfolds the narrative cuts between what is happening to them, and the development of a very sweet romance between Oskar and Eli, as well as his interactions with an older boy, Tommy.
There really isn’t a second to be bored in this story, despite a large chunk at the beginning being devoted to what is essentially setup and establishing background. This should feel slow and awkward, especially with the constant cuts between Oskar and Eli, and the vagrants, and all the information that needs to be established, but it’s just not. It gets a little clunky at times, especially concerning Eli’s past, but given how much past she has it’s difficult to fault this and the story is so well written you get dragged in at the start and can’t put it down. About mid way through the pace really kicks up a notch and you shouldn’t expect to sleep until you’ve finished.
This is a story filled with complex and intriguing characters, an immaculately constructed world that is richly described yet still leaves you wondering about certain things, and wonderful relationships. It’s one of only two books I can think of to use a child’s perspective in an adult book and not be annoying about it, with Oskar given a fully rounded character and believable, human reactions, rather than the simplistic view that authors often haven of children. They’re usually annoying because they don’t feel real – as adults, it’s difficult to recall that we felt things and experienced things as deeply and complexly as adults, albeit in a less mature fashion. Children are often painted as simplistic, foolish, slow on the uptake even when they’re intelligent. Not so in this case, it’s wonderfully done.
Particularly wonderful was Lindqvist’s take on the vampire myth and stylistically quite beautiful (although not perfect). Oddly the lack of perfection in his prose makes his writing all the more enjoyable. A must-read for all fans of the genre.