Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review: Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Translated from Swedish

St. Martin's Press; 28 October 2008
472 pages
Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, Goodreads
3.5 Stars

Twelve-year-old Oskar is obsessed by the murder that's taken place in his neighborhood.  Then he meets the new girl from next door.  She's a bit weird, though.  And she only comes out at night...

This is, hands down, one of the creepiest and most disturbing books I have ever read.  Honestly, after certain passages, I was unsure if I would be able to finish it.  

It revolves around Oskar Eriksson, a shy, bullied boy being raised by his mother.  Oskar is somewhat obsessed with gruesome crimes and starts to follow the violent murders happening in his area of Sweden.  At the same time, he becomes friends with the odd girl next door, Eli, who happens to be a vampire. 

This is more of a character-driven rather than plot-driven novel.  Although quite a few things happen, much more time is spent focused on character development.  I happen to like character-driven work, but if you like fast-paced, plot-driven stories, you may find this quite sluggish.

The story follows multiple points of view which tell three different plot lines that intersect and form the entire novel.  Normally, I like this style of story-telling, but this time I felt that much of the details about some of the secondary characters were unnecessary.  I wanted to know more about Eli and be focused on her past and relationship with Oskar.  Instead, I had to spent copious amounts of time with characters I wasn't interested in.

Oskar is an interesting protagonist because he's pitiable and relateable but not altogether likable.  When we first meet him, he is passive, unconfident, and a loner, allowing himself to be bullied and embarrassed in hopes of lessening the punishment each time.  But when he's alone, he harbors a violent fantasies where he exercises his aggression and hatred toward his attackers.  As he grows throughout the novel, he becomes much more active in his own existence and less willing to accept others crimes toward him.  Though I didn't find him likable, I did root for him throughout the novel.

I ardently wish that there had been much more about Eli.  She serves as the catalyst for everything that happens in the story; yet, she is the character about whom the least is revealed.  She's very complex and mysterious because of her dual natures.  She's helpless but violent, childlike but ancient, pure but ruthless, street wise but so naive.  And like Oskar, she is lonely and resigned.

I really wish that the novel had been about her story.  Instead, Lindqvist gives glimpses of her life, miniscule teasers that are never fully fleshed out.  I want to know why she was turned into a vampire, how she's lived for so long, who the evil man who took her was and why he did it.  I wanted passages from her point of view that reveal her heart.  In this area, I felt really unsatisfied.

The character I absolutely loathed was Håkan.  I must admit, though, there is heavy-handed bias involved in my assessment of his character.  I cannot stand pedophiles in literature.  I didn't even finish Lolita because of this.  Håkan is a pedophile, and as soon as I realized that, I wrote him off as disgusting and perverse.  And he definitely is, but I can't see anything beyond that, whereas others may be able to see more to this character.  He does care for Eli, but seeing as she's perpetually twelve, I fail to see much altruism or paternal instinct in play there.

The writing was excellent.  It flowed well and was disturbingly descriptive.  I've read quite a few horror novels, but none of them made me as uncomfortable and creeped out as this one.  In the scariest moments, I felt like I was there, sweating with heart racing.  A few times, my stomach turned, as well, because the description was so gruesome and gritty.

All of the vampire elements were exactly what I wanted with some extras thrown in.  If you are not a fan of what Stephanie Meyer did in the Twilight series, do not fear.  The vampires in this novel are violent killers who combust in the daylight and can't enter a dwelling place without an invitation.  But they are also complex and tortured by their nature, in the tradition of Anne Rice.

All this being said, I still didn't find this a very enjoyable read.  It wasn't the fun type of horrifying, and I often felt more disgusted than terrified.  Though I can acknowledge that the writing and characterizations were very good, they didn't suit me.

In the end, I gave this book 3.5 stars because I can see myself mentioning it, and I respect the quality of writing, but I didn't like it, and I will never read it again.

Those are my thoughts on Let the Right One In.  If you've read it before, please tell me your thoughts in the comments below.  And if you have any vampire literature recommendations, please share.  I love a good vampire novel.

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Happy reading!

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