Where’s the Angst? Let the Right One In

943402Last 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.

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15 comments

  1. Great review. I have this book but haven’t read it because I saw the film. Now, however, I find I can’t really remember the film or its maybe nothing like the book as it didn’t really sound familiar so I may read after all.

  2. I find it interesting that you loved it so much but didn’t find it creepy at the same time. There is obviously a lot more to this book then just creep factor. I’m wondering if one of the reasons it didn’t scare you is because you don’t question whether or not it could really happen. I find the scariest stories are things you feel like could really happen.
    I had never heard of this book or seen any kind of movie or production of it. I’m clearly out of the vampire loop!

    • Haha, I stumbled across this book by accident and was surprised to find out that it is a rather popular book and movie. And I think you are right, even though the book made me wonder at times what I would do if I had to tell someone that a vampire lived next door and even though it is a very realistic setting, it is an unrealistic story. I would probably be more affected by a story about a child molester or mass murderer. (That’s why I don’t like to read those books.)

  3. I’ve only seen the Swedish film, which I really enjoyed. I missed the theatre production when it was on but I heard it was excellent – its clearly a story that lends itself to different forms. I’d be interested to read the novel, more so since you didn’t find it creepy – I don’t like creepy books!

    • Maybe I’ll watch one of the movie versions next Halloween, as everyone highly praises them. What happens to Hakan is rather disgusting, but not particularly creepy. So if you don’t mind reading a story you already know, then I would say go ahead and read the book.

  4. It’s so interesting to see your perspective on this novel. I read it at the beginning of this year but didn’t review it in the end, mainly because I just wanted to read something for fun! The story was familiar to me as I’d already seen both films (the original Swedish version is stunning), so I didn’t find it particularly creepy. One of my favourite things about this story is the wonderfully tender portrayal of the relationship between Oskar and Eli. The author does a great job in humanising Eli’s character, so I’m not surprised you felt some sympathy for her.

    • You say it just right; their relationship is tenderly portrayed. That really shaped my opinion of the book. I’ll have to find a copy of one of the movie versions for next year. I can see how sounds and visuals would really lend themselves to the story. I looks like there’s a short story out about what happens to Eli and Oskar; maybe I’ll give that one a try.

  5. I’ve wanted to read the book for a while but haven’t managed to get around to it. The movie adaptation of this is really good. Well, there’s actually two versions – one has the same title as the book and is Swedish, the other is an English adaptation called ‘Let Me In’. As I don’t speak Swedish, I’ve seen the English version. I enjoyed the movie and found it pretty creepy – it’s not terrifying, but it wasn’t so much fun watching it at night when I was home alone.

    • I don’t really enjoy watching creepy movies if I am by myself at night either. I can see how this would make an excellent movie. As I said in response to some of the other comments, I’ll try to get the movie for next Halloween. 🙂

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