A chilling and contemporary twist on the vampire novel

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

All the other vampire books I’ve read in my ‘Season of the Living Dead’ have been rather cosy or had a good sense of humour.

But then they’ve been mostly aimed at teens and young adults.Then I came to a Nordic vampire novel Let the Right One In, and found something truly dark and horrific that needed a strong stomach and nerves of steel. It is a real contemporary chiller, full of violence and gore, totally relentless – yet at its heart is a the redemptive relationship between a twelve year old boy and a 200 year old vampire frozen into the body of a young girl.

The book is set in and around an anonymous housing estate, built at the edge of a forest in the suburbs. We are introduced to Oskar, twelve years old, fat and geeky, who is the chief victim of the class bullies, and we immediately feel for him. But then we meet Håkan, a quiet newcomer to the town; but he’s also a seedy forty-five year old in a raincoat and has serial killer written all over him – he’s carrying a cylinder of anaesthetic, and he’s prospecting for a victim – it doesn’t take long, and then it’s horrorshow time!

Meanwhile Oskar meets Eli, a strange young girl who only appears in the evenings in the playground. They gradually strike up a friendship and once they realise that their bedrooms share a wall, they start to send morse code messages to each other; Eli’s the first girl who’s ever noticed Oskar. The rest of the supporting cast comprises a group of old men, drifters and alcoholics who meet at the pub – one of them thinks he saw something on the night of the first murder but they’re all too scared. Eventually all of these character threads come together.

I won’t expound any more on the plot as it would spoil the suspense; suffice it to say there are some particularly disturbing scenes in its 500+ pages. The relationship between Oskar and Eli is fascinating; Eli is of course a vampire. When Oskar finds someone to love it is touching, it is also the beginning of his growing up, being able to stand up for himself.

Oskar held the piece of paper with the Morse code in one hand and tapped letters into the wall with the other…
G.O.I.N.G. O.U.T.
The answer came after a few seconds.
I. M. C.O.M.I.N.G.
They met outside the entrance to her building. In one day she had … changed. About a month ago a Jewish woman had come to his school, talked to them about the holocaust and shown them slides. Eli was looking a little bit like the people in those pictures.
The sharp light from the fixture above the door cast dark shadows on her face, as if the bones were threatening to protrude through the skin, as if the skin had become thinner. And …’
What have you done with your hair?’ He had thought it was the light that made it look like that, but when he came closer he saw that a few thick white strands ran through her hair. Like an old person. Eli ran a hand over her head. Smiled at him.
‘It’ll go away. What should we do?’

This novel was entirely different to any other vampire story I’ve read. It was thoroughly modern with no hints of Gothic melodrama at all. It was too long, but thoroughly gripping if you have the stomach for it. Moreover it takes our current fascination with all literary things Nordic, particularly crime novels, to another different level. Read it if you dare! (9/10)

P.S. Just got the original Swedish movie to watch. Apparently it’s marvellous.
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4 thoughts on “A chilling and contemporary twist on the vampire novel

  1. I read this one a year or so ago, and quite enjoyed it. I wanted to see the film when it was released at the cinema, but just never got around to it. I take it that it's available on DVD now… I must hunt out a copy.

  2. I just got my copy from Play.com for £5.98. Those I know who've seen it have said it was very artfully made/interpreted.

  3. I have heard great things about the movie and have had it in my Netflix queue to rent on DVD since it was in the theatre, but I hadn't heard anything about the book. Sounds great! I know your Season of the Living Dead is just about over, but if you wanted another twist on the vampire novel, Fledgling by Octavia Butler is just about the best vampire book I've ever read. Jenny and I have both read and reviewed it, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

  4. Teresa, thanks for the recommendation – one for the wishlist and next time perhaps – I really have had enough of vampires this month now.

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