Saturday, December 25, 2010

Let Me In

Let Me In
Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist
St. Martin's Griffin, 2010 (media tie-in)
486 pages

Originally published as Låt Den Rätte Komma in Sweden (Let The Right One In is the title of the first English translation), this novel by an author that many are calling "the new Stephen King" is the most unique and creepy book I've read in a really long time. The book (and its Swedish language film adaptation) has been very popular in Europe, and a Hollywood version of the film (renamed Let Me In) was released in the States this year. I haven't seen either movie, and this isn't a movie review blog, so back to the book.

The story centers around Oskar, a middle school-aged boy who's tormented by neighborhood bullies. Oskar lives with his Mom in a suburb of Stockholm (I don't think the author cares too much for suburbia given his dreary descriptions of this one!) and he's a really odd kid, yet most of us should be able to relate to him. One evening after a particularly traumatic day at school, Oskar meets his new neighbor. Eli is a strange girl who smells bad and only comes out at night, but she and Oskar become friends. Oskar eventually realizes that Eli is a vampire . . . not only is she a vampire, but she's 200+ years old and, oh, she's not really a girl.

Woven into Oskar's story are those of several other characters who will eventually cross paths with Oskar. The most disturbing (and disgusting) is Håkan, who becomes the monster on the outside that he considers himself to be on the inside. Despite Håkan's actions, for some reason I still felt sorry for him when glances of his humanity came through. (He kind of reminded me of Frankenstein in that way.) But some scenes involving him are really, really gross.

There's a born-again Christian police officer, several absent/distant parents, a group of old stoners, a man with too many cats, and a teenager named Tommy whose story kind of runs parallel to Oskar's. At some point or another, we get into the heads of nearly all the characters to see things their way. Eventually we get Eli's story, who s/he is and how s/he became a vampire. There's an underlying current of sadness and gloom that makes you wonder if perhaps Lindqvist wrote this during one of Sweden's long, dark winters. And yet there's hope, exhibited in characters who undergo life-changing experiences and an edge-of-your-seat final scene of justice that will make you say "Yes!!!" out loud.

It really is an example of classic horror genre. Yet in a way, Let Me In is a love story, multiple love stories, actually. It's a friendship story that asks: what would you do/how far would you go for your friend? All the while weaving through multiple stories of acceptance of self and others for who they are. Each of us has an inner monster, and it's up to us to keep our monsters in check. Some say that's the difference between humans and . . . well, non-humans.

If you have a tendency to bite your nails, you'll lose a few while reading Let Me In. I know I did. Recommended if you like horror or suspense, or general vampire tales.