Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Review: Let The Right One In

I'm very pleased to say that I had the privilege of reading John Ajvide Lindqvists's novel, Let The Right One In. I didn't intend to read another work of vampire fiction, but my lovely fiancee chose it for me in an attempt to cleanse my literary palette (see the last review for the awful details), and she couldn't have offered a book better suited to the task.
    Set  in the author's native Sweden during the 1980's, the story is told from the perspective of a twelve year old boy named Oskar. Timid and very much a solitary lad, Oskar lives with his mother inside the town of Blackeberg, a manufactured suburb of Sweden's working class. Things change for Oskar, though, when he encounters the thin, quiet girl that has moved in next door to him. Immediately, she offers him an explanation - "We can't be friends, and that's the way it is."
    A blunt, but honest statement? Or A Warning?
    Chill and bleak, the story unfolds in a garish juxtaposition of blood and empathy. Oskar, driven by his loneliness and curiosity, befriends the young girl, Eli, against her warning. As the two grow closer,  violence begins to seep from the snow and shadows around the town of Blackeberg. Oskar begins to wonder about his new friend, and why she doesn't leave her windowless apartment until after night has fallen and the sun has disappeared...
    It didn't take long for me to fall in love with this story - the author's tone is clipped but direct, and the somewhat staccato prose paints a minimalist but enamoring image of a youth spent in fear of being alone forever, and the pain of existing at the mercy of both sadistic peers and loved ones alike.  Further, the dim, gray-scale backdrop of Blackeberg serves as an effective mirror to the even darker themes of the book. Stalking around notions of addiction, pedophilia, and the pain of loneliness and lust,  Let The Right One In  may not be for everyone. There were definite moments when I became uncomfortable, and I wondered if I could - or should - go on. I do believe, though, that it's the ability of an author to raise such surges of emotional reactivity that defines and sets them apart, and Lindqvist no doubt excels in this craft.
    Let The Right One In is not without its subplots and supporting characters, and each is vital to the story proper in all of the right ways. I don't think that it would be a kindness to divulge every detail here, but I will say that I am partial to the tale of Lacke and the Blackeberg dive wherein locals Morgan, Larry and Gösta discover that one of their number has become victim of a violent murder. Grief stricken to the point of near sobriety, Lacke's pursuit of the truth surrounding the horror growing around him leads to grim realizations. When Lacke's would-be girlfriend is likewise savaged, his drive for vengeance brings an unwitting threat to the fast bond growing between young Oskar and Eli.
The tale of Lacke's  lone determination to rise from the dredges of alcoholism to avenge the murder of his friend is a superb example of Lindqvist's talent. The plot is interwoven into that of Eli and Oskar's with an effective aesthetic, bringing with it themes of discipline and love, obsession and sacrifice; a synthesis of ideals that beautifully highlights the main storyline without appearing contrived or forced from a veritable pulpit.
    Reading this book changed the way that I interpret a great many things in fiction - horror and suspense, to be sure, but also romance and the sometimes indefinable line between love and sexuality. The apparent youth of some of the characters, paired with the age of others, helped to make these lines feel more thin - more real - until they were perhaps erased all together.
    By  books end, I must confess that I felt used up and somewhat empty, but it was not without a supreme appreciation for the depth of love and personal energy that I believe the author placed into his work. If vampire love stories are your particular vein of entertainment, you may find that this book suits your tastes. However, you must prepare yourself to be vulnerable, and to be moved - and, at times, very disturbed.

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