The Book: Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg. (2007). Published by Quercus. 519 pages. ISBN: 9781847248489
I am really somewhat punctilious when it comes to the condition of books I read. Those who crack and bend back the spine of a book are on a par with those who put Coca Cola in a 40 year old Single Malt – heathens! So considering I bought this title around about 2009 and hand not got round to reading it, I felt that time was of the essence to ensure it got no tattier than its current condition.
I had bought this book on the recommendation of a bookshop colleague at the time, but the influx of set reading for University meant it swiftly fell to the bottom of the ‘To Read’ list. Finally I found myself with nothing to read and a desire to taste something different to the norm. I finally decided to give this Swedish horror novel a whirl.
I have a fairly limited knowledge of Scandinavia or Scandinavian fiction, with only The Millennium Saga, a couple of Martin Beck novels, and The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared being read to my memory. Lindqvist here seems to carry on the trend of ensuring darkness, grittiness and socio-political commentary intertwine to leave a gripping and plausible narrative.
There is something of a motley crew of main characters in this book to get to grips with but our main focus is the young, bullied Oskar who fantasises of killing his tormentors at school and collects, in a scrapbook, article from newspapers about gruesome murders. There are few truly or deeply likeable characters in the novel if truth be told. You have:
- a paedophile who seems to kill ritualistically;
- a moody, rebellious, glue-sniffing teenager;
- a group of surly alcoholics who frequent a local Chinese restaurant, and;
- a stuffy religious zealot of a police officer (who may be the creepiest of them all!)
Considering then that our secondary character, Eli, a 200 year old vampire trapped in a young, girlish body is not met until around 100 pages into the book, it is unsurprising that I could not list her above. She arrives in eerie form, showing the sensibilities of a pre-Victorian girl than a modern teen and that social awkwardness is shown in expert form by Lindqvist. It is never overt and is subtle enough to shroud Eli in some form of mystery for the majority of the rest of the book.
As the story evolves you are led through flitting glances into the lives of these characters and the macabre ways they manage to get through each day. It gives Let the Right One In a superb sense of atmosphere, which is a good job, as there are parts where the plot feels rather padded out by socio-political and psychological commentary. More than anything else I have read recently there is an ebb and flow to this story which makes it both suspenseful (at the best of times) and convoluted (at the worst). To its disadvantage it seems unnecessary to have this book set in 1981. Though I’m sure those with good knowledge of politics in Sweden at this time will surely appreciate the subtle nuances and nods to this period, it is of little to no use to the more general audience, or indeed the story.
At it’s heart this is ultimately a horror novel and it does have moment of genuine scariness. These are created stylishly and used sparingly enough to keep the reader guessing and on their toes. The fact that the main source of fear and hesitency for the balk of the book is a young girl adds to the tone of the writing fantastically well and allows, without giving too much away, the sudden change in antagonist(s) towards the end to really up the ante both in terms of pace and fear-factor.
It is, overall, a very enjoyable book. I am gad I read this one in the winter though as that definitely dictates and allows for the atmosphere to really soak through to the skin. There are certainly bits which can be picked apart quite easily but it is for the most part a brilliant addition to, if not the horror genre, the altogether over-romanticised tropes of the modern vampire genre. While love is definitely a theme within Let the Right One In, it is a more platonic, realistic and sobering love than those found in the likes of Twilight or the Sookie Stackhouse series.
As dark as this book is, the love of the two ‘young’ protagonists really shies through to make an unequivocally visionary entry into the horror/vampire/romance sub-genres.
The Dram: Mackmyra Bruks Single Malt Whisky 41.4% (£40 approx.)
It seems suitable that one would pair a Swedish whisky with this novel. Not only with the obvious national ties between the two, but also the trepidation with which I immersed my self in each brought this pairing to the fore. Brukswhisky was a pleasant surprise with a not unloveable nose that brings out thoughts of Swedish forests and is almost Christmassy giving way to a sweet palate and smoky finish. I find that with this character the whisky matched itself perfectly with Lindqvist’s work.
Both would best be enjoyed, or perhaps I should say indulged in, on a dark, cold, winter’s night to get this pairing at its prime!
Don’t forget to follow ‘abookandadram’ on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter