Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Let the Right One In #review

Title: Let the Right One In
Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Publisher: Quercus, 2007
Buy link

Oskar, a 12-year-old boy in the Swedish suburb of Blackeberg, has problems. He puts up with severe bullying at school and is socially withdrawn. The large support cast is varied and just as defective as the boy. Readers are introduced to the dysfunctional relationship between the alcoholic Lacke and Virginia, as well as the murderer, and the rather pitiful Eli, and a host of others, all of whom go through their day-by-day existence.

Lindqvist paints a bleak picture, of ordinary folk dulled by the mundane, all of whom have potential that has been eroded by routine, dreams discarded and the passive acceptance of their lot within a society that grinds along. Yes, there is something fundamentally and profoundly depressing by all this, and in this lies the true horror of Let the Right One In—not so much the horrors people perpetrate on each other.

In a sense this novel is a coming-of-age story for Oskar, and the complex relationship he has with Eli, whom I can only picture as a sort of warped anima/animus figure. This is a love story too, about two isolated people who forge a deep regard for each other despite their vast differences. Yet while this is admirable, Lindqvist does not steer away from the unnaturalness of this situation.

Perhaps what I appreciated about the story is how at first Lindqvist introduces a number of seemingly unconnected story arcs then slowly, but surely winds them together until they are inextricably bound. He does not shy away from that which is ugly and brutal, and Let the Right One In is not an easy novel to read. Its slow start is deceptive and the ending without remorse.

The only fault I could pick was the translation, which at times felt a bit clunky, and I suspect some of the nuances might’ve been lost when the story was carried over to the English. This being said, I appreciated the almost clinical tone of Lindqvist’s writing, and the way he succeeds in building tension.

I recently read one of his short stories in editor Stephen Jones’s A Book of Horrors anthology, and I can pick up echoes of familiar themes. All I can say is that Lindqvist offers no compromises, hitting hard and fast at contemporary society in such a way to display the true horror. It’s not so much the vampire that is monstrous in the novel, but rather human behaviour.

Let the Right One In is an uncomfortable read. Also a perfect antidote to the current popular slew of glittery, schmexy defanged monsters. If you’re looking for a novel that will unsettle you with disturbing images, then look no further.

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