Vampires Done Right
By Meg Baumgartner
Why have vampire romance novels become so endearing lately? There is something about the battles between good and evil, life and death, hate and love… that enthralls us. What better way to capture this disparity, than in a vampire-human love story? Edward and Bella, Elena and Stefan, Selene and Michael, Mick and Beth; just walk through the Young Adult Fantasy and Fiction section of any bookstore and you will see that this controversial couple concept has been fully exhausted. However, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s first novel, Let The Right One In, manages to break this mold in and unfamiliar and refreshing fashion.
Set in Sweden in the early 1980’s, Lindqvist’s book tells the story of Oskar, a bullied 12-year-old boy with few friends, and even fewer social skills. He lives with his absent mother in a dreary suburb just outside of the city. His days consist of avoiding bullies, stealing candy, and adding articles to his murder scrapbook; a scrapbook filled with stories and pictures of the recent murders that have been occurring in the area. When a young girl named Eli walks into his odd little world, Oskar finally develops a bond with another human being. Or has he? Oskar begins to notice some very strange things about his new friend; Eli never seems to be cold, even on the chilliest of winter nights. She never leaves her house during the daytime and she has a knack for perfecting small and impossible tasks.
Throughout the story, the details of Eli and her life are slowly revealed. Eli is actually a two hundred year old vampire stuck in eternal childhood and with an unquenchable thirst for human blood. Even before Oskar is aware of Eli’s secret, he acknowledges that she seems dangerous, “-there was something in her, something that was…pure horror. Everything you were supposed to watch out for. Heights, fire, shards of glass, snakes, everything that [Oskar’s] mom tried so hard to keep him safe from;” despite these facts, Oskar is drawn to Eli. Their relationship develops into a romance marred by Eli’s secret and reflective of their awkward pre-teen age: “What he was scared of was not that maybe she was a creature who survived by drinking other people’s blood. No, it was that she might push him away.”
Let The Right One In unravels around the connection between Eli and Oskar. Oskar follows Eli as she embarks on her usual vampire routines: hunting, killing, avoiding the sunlight… Oskar learns about the relationship between Eli and her ‘father,’ Hakan. Hakan is a closeted pedophile that serves Eli by murdering people and bringing them to her to drink; Eli rejects all of Hakan’s sexual advances and for this the situation between the two begins to unravel. Despite her murderous ways, you find yourself rooting for Eli and, therefore, Oskar. The young couple finds obstacles in Eli’s world of death, pedophilia, and murder; as well as in Oskar’s world of rejection, bullying, and loss. Together, Oskar and Eli spend the story overcoming their obstacles, growing closer to one another in the process.
Sounds generic, right? Wrong. The story of Oskar and Eli is the farthest possible thing from the usual vampire romance novels. Everything about this story deters from a classic romance: the graphicness and sheer brutality, the pedophilia, and the torment of bullies. Yet, somehow it all works. Eli is a two hundred year old murderess but she has retained an innocence that coexists perfectly with Oskar’s troubled character.
Lindqvist’s writing is problematically slow, and as the reader, you find yourself so exhausted by irrelevant details and subplots that you hardly want to continue the story. Many characters that are introduced and articulately described end up having no significant place in the plot. These sort of specifics could easily have been neglected. However, if you can get past the pace of this 472-page novel, the underlying story is definitely worth the read. While many of the scenes are snail-paced, there are moments that are gripping in their complexity and originality.
Though it seems Lindqvist has geared his novel towards an adult audience, I would argue that Let The Right One In could be enjoyed by young adult or teen readers. Some details of the story are disturbingly graphic, but the basis of them are not original, making them suitable to anyone who can handle a little blood and gore.