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February 19, 2009

{     "Let the Right One In" by John Ajvide Lindqvist     }    

let-right-one-in-john-ajvide-lindqvist-paperback-cover-art23325587523.jpg Set in 1980 in the Swedish suburb of Blackeberg, this unusual re-telling of the vampire myth manages to transcend all of our expectations of that genre. It's also one of the most complex, intimate and endearing coming of age stories put to the page, as well as an examination of the darker heart of Sweden. The novel steps beyond the golden-ABBA-sunshine stereotype into the shadows where we encounter a host of characters struggling with their morality. Human and otherwise, we observe as their lives play out, each action and its consequences propelling us into further and further transgressions.

Those who've seen the film based on Lindqvist's novel will readily identify these themes as part of the central story, but if you've only seen the film you're missing half of what the novel has to offer. That's not to say that the film isn't remarkable in its own right. It is, and it's deserving of every bit of praise thrown its way. But as is often the case, there's a bit more to be discovered on the page, and with the time and space to introduce and fully develop several characters that simply couldn't be approached given the film's necessarily limited scope, we see a much broader picture here.

The story concerns a young man named Oskar. At twelve years-old, he's become a social outcast amongst his schoolmates, a target for aggressive bullies and misplaced hatred. He's begun to passively accept his fate, performing any number of demeaning actions in order to escape being physically assaulted. But in the evening, away from school and it's social circles, he's begun to entertain violent revenge fantasies involving his attackers. This eerily coincides with a bizarre ritualistic killing that has taken place in a neighboring suburb, and with the arrival of a strange young girl to the housing complex in which Oskar lives with his mother. The relationship that develops between Oskar and the young woman, Eli, forms the story's core, their encounter sparks change: Oskar finds himself capable of giving in to his violent urges to defend himself and to prove his worth to Eli while she does her best to repress her naturally brutal instincts in the interest of retaining contact with Oskar. Silently dividing the two is Hakan, Eli's caretaker. He is jealous of Oskar, and willing to do seemingly anything to preserve the attention of Eli, even if it means sinking to otherwise abominable acts.

One of the novel's great accomplishments is that it manages to place the reader at the crux of each character's moral dilemma, to see the human side of even the most sadistic monster and to observe that even the seemingly innocent and pious are not without the tarnish of some sin.

The novel also manages to evoke a powerful sense of what it is like to be an adolescent, through the development of Oskar's character. We experience the way his mind works, the way a twelve year-old's mind works, as the author relates his everyday thoughts. When he gets carried away and imagines a war zone in the school playground sandbox, or posits the theory that he may be psychically or telekinetically connected to a murder scene, we understand these musings. He's a bright kid, a puzzle solver, and the fact that he is so often alone has forced him to become self-dependent. In many ways, we are watching him grow up in the short span of time covered by the novel, and it's amazing how his dawning maturity expresses itself in the decisions he makes.

If you've seen the film then you know this aspect of the novel is richly captured, but also that the film leaves many questions rather intentionally unanswered. One of my greatest delights in reading the novel post-movie has been in finding answers to every question I ever imagined as I watched the film. The origins and motivations of the characters are fully explained, and one of the most puzzling and controversial moments of the film, a certain physical revelation, is expounded upon leaving no doubt as to what we are encountering. And as mentioned before, we're also introduced to several other characters beyond the film's scope- Tommy, an older neighbor boy who befriends Oskar, but who is consumed with kleptomania and addicted to huffing glue; Steffan, a devoutly religious police officer who finds the limits of his patience tested by Tommy, whose widowed mother he is attempting to court. We learn more about Lacke and Virginia, two of the small group of drinking buddies whose lives are forever disrupted when one of their group, Jocke, disappears and is presumed murdered. We even get to spend some quality time with Gosta, the crazy cat-man and his apartment full of dozens of inbred housecats.

Essentially, I'm happy to say that even if you've seen the film there's plenty here to enjoy. Genre fans will love the way vampire lore is worked into the contemporary setting while those who are simply looking for a compelling read will find that and more in the novel's complex dissection of modern life.

I've offered a link to purchase below. You can find it cheaper at Amazon, but be warned that the Publisher's Weekly review featured prominently as a part of the Amazon listing has a positively MASSIVE spoiler worked throughout it's text. If you've not seen the film, you may want to avoid this entirely unless you can trust yourself to simply click it into your cart and shove off to checkout without peeking.

The film releases on DVD March 1st.

     » Purchase a copy from
     » Pre-order a copy of the DVD


I think Sweden must be one of the darkest places on earth.

Posted by: Aaron at February 21, 2009 10:46 PM
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