Monday, June 11, 2007

Let the Right One In

I generally don't do horror. I'm the kind of person who screams at the cinema and has to cover their eyes during the gory bits. I can appreciate the art of horror but on an emotional level it's just too much for me.

So I approached John Ajvide Lindqvist's Let the Right One In (subtitled: 'A Vampire Love Story') with great trepidation. It was a present from my husband so I wanted to read it. And I am interested in vampire mythology despite my weak stomach for horror. And although I found parts of this Swedish novel nightmarishly disturbing, I was totally hooked and couldn't put it down.

Lindqvist's novel takes place in Blackeberg, a newish outer suburb of a large city. The setting is significant, as explained at the beginning of the novel. It is the suburb's newness, 'the modernity of the place, its rationality', that leaves its inhabitants unprepared for the strange and disturbing events that take place there. In a way this reminded me of of Sunnydale, the setting of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an incongruous location for vampires who we are more used to seeing in medieval castles or Victorian alleyways. Both Buffy and Let the Right the One In are interested in the ways that ancient myths and contemporary society might interact.

Let the Right One In switches between the stories of several people in Blackeberg. The main character is Oskar, a young boy who is brutally tormented by bullies at his school. Oskar befriends Eli, a strange girl who has moved into the flat next door to Oskar and his mother. Eli's strangeness, her imperviousness to the cold, her old-fashioned speech and her intelligence fascinate Oskar and their nightly meetings in his apartment block's playground provide him with a new source of confidence. Meanwhile, the cold-blooded and seemingly ritualistic killings of several people in the area begin to affect the residents of Blackeberg.

The power of horror lies in the anticipation and in the ability of the writer to make the unbelievable believable. Lindqvist does the latter very well, creating a realistically gritty suburban environment for his characters. His world is so real that it seems more shocking but also strangely believable when supernatural elements are introduced into the plot. In some senses it is the humans who are scarier than the vampires in this novel.

Lindqvist is also excellent at creating a sense of anticipation and I read the first 200 or so pages of Let the Right One In absolutely gripped with terror. I couldn't put the book down but at the same time I almost had to shut my eyes at times. Unfortunately, like many horror films, Lindqvist doesn't quite pull off the climax of the novel, the part where all the horrors that have been hinted at are finally revealed. I think that maybe this is a pitfall of the genre. After so much build-up and suggestion of horrors to come, the revealing of those horrors either falls flat or takes on a hysterical edge, as it does here, and suddenly it all seems a little bit silly. Despite the gore (and there is lots of that), I wasn't as gripped by the last third of the novel as I had been at the beginning.

Still, I was pleased to conquer my fear of the genre and I think that parts of this novel are really excellent. I may even venture into more horror writing if I can psyche myself up to the task.

On another note, my entries might be a bit few and far between for a little while- my ancient PC finally died and I don't have regular computer access. Hopefully I'll be back soon with bright shiny new computer-powered posts!


meli said...

Sounds interesting! I have recently been reluctantly introduced to the genre of horror movies. After sitting through several, I have lately been refusing to watch them, so maybe your post will spur me on to new levels of bravery. A month or so back I watched The Ring (the American version). It is an incredibly beautiful movie. It is terrifying but I sort of coped - until it finished. This is one horror movie that gets the end perfectly right. All night the images flashed through my head, and I couldn't get to sleep till the sun rose.

Stephen said...

Although I 'do' horror films I don't really 'do' horror novels. I can't explain this - what I read and what I watch are quite different.

Reading your post suggests to me that horror novels are in a much better shape than horror films at the moment - so this is a book I'm going to check out.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let you know that this book was recently made into a film here in Sweden. It should find its way to you soon enough I hope.

IMDB link:


Anonymous said...

I saw the movie yesterday and I really loved it!

Great story. Ithink i'll try and read the novel aswell, since u recomend.


Anonymous said...

Blackeberg is a real suburb of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, and the author grew up in that area.

Blackeberg litteraly means "black mountain" and the suburb is (one of man) projects built in the 1950ies to accommodate the many new inhabitants of city that moved in from the country side to work in the factories. During this post-war era the Swedish industry was blooming and the economy was thriving. (Pretty much because Sweden was unharmed by WWII, this because Sweden sold shitloads of steel to Nazi-Germany.)

But in the 1980 when the story takes place, and today, the area is very run down. The people living there are the lower end of the working class, with a lot of people living on unemployment or social subsidies.

The intention of these projects was good, but it didn't really turn out as the government expected.

The architecture is pretty much just these several story big, gray and depressing concrete boxes. It's a place of desolation, depression, alienation and despair.

An eerie and very real setting. And a theme that goes through almost all of his books.

It's a good book and I recommend it.

stacey - minneapolis said...

I cannot overstate how incredibly touching the film version of this novel is. It doesn't hammer you Hollywood-style with gore and fast cuts, instead it has scenes that play to the subconscious and swim back up through the murk to haunt you day after day.

The vampirism almost feels like a subplot. It's really about two lost children, each suffering horribly in their own ways, who find in each other things to fill emotional holes.

And even though the climax is obvious from the beginning, the way it is filmed (action happening obliquely at the sides of the point of focus) is like a trick that you only vaguely realize is happening during the real-time watching of it, and then mercilessly haunts you for days afterwards.