LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST
First of all I would like to point out that the book has been published in America under the title of ‘Let Me In’ and in the UK as ‘Let The Right One In’ it doesn’t matter, they are still the same novel by Lindqvist, (and for some reason the Library as the American release, but hey I don’t really care it was still a great read and it is only the title) now that is out of the way let’s get on with reviewing the book. And while on pointless trivia Lindqvist took the name for the novel from a Morrissey’s song: ‘Let the right one in / let the old dreams die / Let the wrong ones go / They cannot do what you want them to do’.
Lindqvist is being heralded as the Swedish Stephen King. After reading the book I can see why. The problem I have with Stephen King is the same, I think that everyone has with him, namely is that he tends to go on a bit. This said I still find his books tremendous fun and a rewarding read. Lindqvist is not as prolific as King in his detail or description but he is thorough in situations and characterisation and by doing so you get to know the characters as other that one dimensional types.
The film ‘Let The Right One In’ guts the book and gives the essential of the story making it a visual beautiful film and overcoming the short comings of the novel. (There are those who feel that all novels should be given a completely faithful translation, I am not one of them). What is probably most disturbing about the novel is the amount of violence towards children. Most horror writers try to remove themselves from anything too paedophilic, when horror should in some form or other face this as uncomfortable reality and reflect the anxieties that are inherent within society. There’s no easy way to do this and the character in the book, Hakan, that acts as Dracula’s Renfield to the vampire Eli, is both tragic and repulsive in turns.
The characters drawn in the novel are far darker than portrayed in the film versions. Oskar is a tubby, troubled thirteen-year old who suffers from spontaneous nose bleeds and incontinence (he has wet himself so many times that he wears a foam piece attached to his penis to help absorb the urine which he calls his ‘pissball’). Oskar is a binge eater and kleptomaniac, and to some degree as a compulsive disorder. He is bullied constantly at school especially by Johny Forsberg’s gang of friends, some use to be Oskar friends a few terms back, but now call him piggy and help to corner him for their amusement. The difference with the bullies here is they actually intend on killing Oskar certainly at the end of the book.
There is no doubt the most disturbing character is the servant of Eli, the paedophile Hakan. In the film little is known of him, other than he is the servant and father-figure, in the book he is brought grotesquely to life. He is deranged by guilt and tortured by his lust for children. He was once a teacher but the community found out about his tendencies they hounded from his position. He eventually became a down and out drunk, making passes at small boys. That was until Eli found him and took him as her servant so that he could do the killing for her. As part of her bargain she would pose and sleep naked with him but no other sexual contact would be given. Thus he could indulge his desires in a voyeuristic fashion without guilt (Eli may look and for all purposes be a twelve year old but she is actually a two hundred year old vampire). Hakan eventually caught pours acid on his face to obscure identification is then taken to hospital where Eli flies to the window where he is held and drinks his blood throwing him from the window thinking she killed him from the fall from the top of the hospital, however, he is now vampirised, he kills the mortuary attendant and goes after Eli.
Eli is, oddly enough, the least grotesque of the main characters in the fact that she has no choice in what she does taking on Haken so she doesn’t have to kill. We find some back story to her. How she was brought as a child to a castle to be used in ritual and vampirised ( there is something else about her that I won’t give away in this review. I’ve already given far too many spoilers). She was going to kill Oskar but he touched her hair as she bent forward which she did not expect and couldn’t go through with the attack instead became friendly with the Oskar. Eli is far from glamorous. Oskar mentions that she should wash as she smells. At one point she takes a shirt from the rubbish and Oskar points out she could have at least washed it. Lindqvist doesn’t alter vampire lore too much she must be asked in and she can sharpen her teeth when feeding and metamorphose her fingers and toes into talons and hooks in order to climb and fight. She can also metamorphous skin under her arms giving her the ability of flight.
As for the background characters:Tommy who is the closest to a friend Osckar has. Tommy knows of Oscar bullying but feels that Oskar is just one of those children who will have to endure it. Tommy, who has an extensive back story himself, is already at logger-heads with, his potential step-father (a policeman who is investigating the murders committed by Haken ). He steals a few trophies from the police-man’s house and setting a fire in the church where Tommy is invited one Sunday for a practical joke. But Eli uses Tommy when she needs to buy some blood off of him using a syringe rather than her teeth to extract it, so she doesn’t inadvertently create more vampires
The character of Virgina who is attacked by Eli and distracted before she can kill her is more visceral. Unknowing to Virgina after the attack she becomes extremely sensitive to the sun realising that is burning her skin and eyes when she ventures to work a day after the attack. She can’t stay long at work and when she goes home she finds herself hungry but unable to eat. A formation of brain cells develops in her chest and starts to control her behaviour making her develop a craving for blood her own as she starts to cut and feed on her own blood. Virgina starts to work out that she is a vampire or as been infected with it. She then has to decide as a fledgling vampire whether she will kill or not for her survival.
There are some interesting observational narratives in the novel. Oskar who thinks of his father as a werewolf when he consumes alcohol. Getting drunk turning a dependable father into a self-centred and pitying creature.
I immensely enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it on anyone’s reading list. I look forward to anything else from Lindqvist with great enthusiasm.