Let The Right One In (book, John Ajvide Lindqvist, 2007)

A review of the book Let The Right One In, adapted twice into a film, from Death Ray 05. You can read an interview with Linqvist, originally published alongside this review, here.


John Ajvide Lindqvist/ Quercus

A bullied 12-year old makes friends with a female vampire who moves in next door.

We reviewers are quick to compare, and it’s too tempting and simple a thing to say that a horror author writes like Stephen King. It’s also very often not true. But in Lindqvist’s case, we can safely trot out the old statement and mean it. Sharp writing, semi-autobiographical tone, and that intimate connection with his small-town setting – those things that make King the king are present in Lindqvist’s book. Crucially, and also like King, Lindqvist’s characters have the space to breathe, to take on life before being confronted by death. Empathy is essential in horror, something too many authors forget as they pile on the gore.

Chief among these characters is Oskar, a boy living in Stockholm’s western suburbs. He is a nice kid, but is bullied. So when Eli, an equally lonely girl, moves into his apartment building he befriends her, unaware that she is a vampire.

Though she has to kill to live, to him she becomes more than a friend. In Oskar’s world, monsters are other children and wayward adults (alcoholism – one of Sweden’s more pressing ills – features prominently), and fear comes from being alone. Far from being a threat, Eli helps Oskar confront and overcome these terrors. in what is by turns a moving and shiversome tale.

The book has its share of blood and scares, but it is Oskar’s discovery of his own inner fortitude that holds your attention. In this, the book shares some of the feel of Ray Bradbury’s coming of age stories, and this is also no bad thing.

To the bad, the story is occasionally undermined by the translation. This is well-accomplished, but it has not been done by a native English speaker, and there are spell-breaking missteps here and there where idioms have been inappropriately transliterated. Furthermore, the language used is an amalgam of US and British English: “Fifth grade”, “subway”, and “gotten” are a small measure of the transatlantic crop of words and phrases that infest the book – annoying in a volume intended for the UK market, and it inaccurately makes Sweden feel like some kind of faux-America besides.

This really is a very minor quibble though, Let the Right One In is a fantastic novel, gripping and just a little sad. It’s easy to see why this was a bestseller in Sweden. It deserves to be so here.

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