Having seen the movie, I was surprised to see how thick the book was when I received it in the mail. It didn’t take long for me to realize why. The timeframe for the book is only three weeks, but the author follows quite a few characters in the Swedish town of Blackeberg, which makes for a complex story. The primary groups of characters include Oskar and his single mom, the school bullies who torture Oskar; Tommy, a glue-huffing teens who lives in Oskar’s building; a group of underemployed alcoholic barflies (their bar being a Chinese restaurant); and Eli the vampire and her male companion (a pedophile of the really creepy, sad, apologetic variety). These are just the primary characters. There are also a number of peripheral characters to each of these groups.
The author, John Ajvide Lindqvist, gets five stars for character development. I mean, there are a lot of characters in this book and Lindqvist does an amazingly thorough job of giving the reader a glimpse into the lives and personalities of all of them. Even the peripheral characters have dimension and are important to the story. I feel like I actually spent time in this town with these people. I admit that if there are too many characters in a book, I get a little lost and have to look back to refresh my memory of who’s who. I had no problem keeping it all straight because each of the characters in this book has a uniqueness that makes them unforgettable.
This book would be considered part of the horror genre, but the horror isn’t just in the fact that a main character is a vampire. There was horror in Blackeberg before the vampire came to town. Yes, there are murderous acts committed by and in service to the vampire, but the people portrayed in the story were murdering each other’s’ spirits, or their own spirits were half dead, way before Eli brought actual death. Oskar’s bullies are sadistic and cruel, Tommy is sad and hopeless, the drunks are barely surviving in life. Even Oskar’s father, who on first appearance seems to be a fun guy, turns out to be a hopeless alcoholic.
There are two transformations caused by the vampire. One of them is so fascinating as Lindqvist describes the physical changes the character goes through and the mental realization that she’s becoming a vampire. The other is so disturbing that if it were on TV, I would want to turn away (I may have been squinting and reading through one eye during descriptions of this one).
Oskar goes through his own (non-vampire) transformation as a result of meeting Eli. Even Eli seems to become a happier “person” through the relationship formed with Oskar. Eli and Oskar seem to be on the road to becoming their new and improved selves while the rest of the characters sink further into the pit of their sad lives.
I wanted to include some examples of the character development, but there are just so many amazing and subtle descriptions that I found myself with the dilemma of too many excerpts or very long excerpts. And at some point I can’t identify, all of that development suddenly comes together in the action and tension and excitement of the story. The way I would describe the experience of reading Let the Right One In is that it’s like riding one of those roller coasters that features one frightening climb to the top followed by a huge drop then some twists and turns back to the start. As the car climbs you sit back, look around the park, watch the ground slowly move away, not quite anticipating the excitement yet. Then you reach the top and the adrenaline flows and it’s a fast, topsy turvy ride to the end.
There is some ambiguity regarding Eli and her/his shape-shifting and flying ability. There are references to it, but this is the only thing that seems to be deliberately under-described by Lindqvist. I feel ambivalent about it. I was bothered a little, but then I would think about it and decide it may be better to keep the mystery about Eli’s “capabilities”. Not sure.
What I am sure about is that you should absolutely read this book if you enjoy character study, if you’re not afraid to be occasionally repulsed by what you read, and if you like to think while you read. I found myself thinking about these characters a lot and about the relationships between characters. I’m going to add Lindqvist’s other books to my “want to read” list.
My next review will be about Hero Found: The Greatest POW Escape of the Vietnam War by Bruce Henderson. Several years ago, I saw the amazing movie Rescue Dawn starring Christian Bale as Dieter Dengler and have wanted to read this book ever since. If you haven’t seen the movie, see it! Check back in to find out what I think of the book.