Last week, I needed to shake up my reading. I was dabbling in a couple of different books, but none really grabbed me. I completely switched gears and started John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In, a book that was described by almost everyone on Goodreads as creepy. 50 pages into the book, I knew exactly how I would write my review. I even started writing it. But then the book turned out not to match the review. Ha!
So let me start over, now that I have actually finished the book. First, it was exactly the right book to read. I blasted through it, and it hit all the right buttons. The story takes place over approximately three weeks in late October/early November, and it was fun to read about October 31 on October 31. And of course it was the right time of year to read about vampires. And not the fluffy kind!
The three main protagonists are Oskar, Håkan, and Eli. Oskar is 12, with divorced parents and a fascination of gruesome murders. He’s also being bullied at school. Håkan and Eli move into the apartment next to his, and Oskar assumes they are father and daughter. But when the murders start, Oskar has to face the fact that his new friend Eli is a bit strange and that Håkan might not be her father after all.
The story was wonderfully atmospheric and also very realistic, from the bland apartment complex and Oskar’s suffering at the hands of his bullies to the need to come up with logical explanations for oddness. It’s easy to excuse weird behavior when you hear about it from a glue-sniffing teenager or dismiss a strange story when you hear it from a notorious alcoholic. The confusion and embarrassment people experienced when they had to admit to themselves or others that something inexplicable was going on was very believable.
There were a number of scenes full of tension and eeriness. It’s a given that Oskar goes into the woods even though his mother forbids it after the first murder takes place. As more and more people turn into vampires, you wonder how they could possibly be prevented from spreading. One character’s transformation into a light-shunning vampire is described in such completely believable detail that I could totally see it happen that way in real life. Lots of good, entertaining stuff there.
There was just one problem: I did not find it creepy! I have to admit that I was a little disappointed by that, especially since I am so easily spooked. I was fully prepared to spend my nights wondering if there was creepiness outside my house, but that did not happen. I was a little hesitant when I was asked to check for zombies under the bed on Saturday, but I can’t say I was scared. Why?
I think it’s because I didn’t find Eli to be malicious. I never forgot that the vampire’s need for blood was powered by a drive to survive—which is rather human and perfectly understandable. If Eli had been a cold-hearted manipulator, I would have found it harder to deal with the story as well. But while there is no doubt that Eli manipulated Håkan and took advantage of his mental illness, Håkan became such an unlikeable character that I didn’t mind that too much. When the focus shifted to Eli’s relationship with Oskar, I was rather touched by how the two approached each other. Most importantly, Oskar finally found the strength to deal with his bullies (which led to a rather dramatic scene towards the end of the book). At this point also, the other vampires had been quite impressively taken care of in different ways, so the vampire epidemic I had feared never took place. Somehow, sadly, there was nothing left to be scared of. Maybe that’s a good thing, but I wanted more.
Have you read this book? I’d love to hear whether you found it creepy, and if so, why.