Discussion location: The Bureau, Colmore Row – a  sophisticated newish bar, very accomodating waitress, awaiting  rooftop garden opening.

  Chosen by: Fiona

  Reason for choice: One of her favourite books. Saw Swedish film first and loved it, then read book and felt it gave a better idea of the characters.

Review:

A departure from our usual book type, Let the Right One In is a vampire novel set in a bleak Swedish suburb in the 1980s. The mention of the word “vampire” tends to illicit thoughts of undying love, sparkly skin, and coffins, thanks to popular literature such as Twilight, Interview with a Vampire, and Dracula, but if Lindqvist can be congratulated on anything, it should be for departing from the highly sexualised and/or romanticised image of vampires that we’ve come to expect.

With a title that hails from a Morrissey song, harkening to the folklore of inviting vampires in, the novel’s main focus is on the relationship between “the right one”, 12-year-old heavily bullied Oskar, a boy whose mother is more childlike than him and whose father is an alcoholic, and his century-old vampire neighbour Eli, who is stuck in a 12-year-old’s body and is protected by the disgraced paedophilic teacher Hakkan.

This unusual novel commences when Eli moves to the (evocatively described) depressing, snowy suburb and a succession of murders shortly commence as Hakkan attempts to keep Eli alive. Oskar, who is obsessed with the murders and the idea of killing his bullies, befriends Eli and gradually comes to learn that she is a vampire. Despite being a little “grossed out” by the idea of Eli drinking blood and her odd smell, Oskar continues to spend time with her and increasingly grows to like her. When Hakkan is caught and Eli accidentally turns him and a local woman, Virginia, into vampires, it is a matter of time before Eli’s secret is discovered. Oskar makes the choice to protect Eli, and in exchange, she brutally kills those that bully him.

As you can imagine, the story is undeniably gruesome in parts, with some distasteful conversations, gory descriptions, and disturbing occurrences. Although a tad unsavoury, the book is never outrageous for no reason, and instead presents a gritty, dirtily realistic account of what it would be like to be a vampire in suburban working class neighbourhood.

Although the bleakness of the society and its inhabitants serves to paint an image of a morally vacuous society, it did make the novel feel unnecessarily long and at times mundane. Despite being thought-provoking (the mark of a good book) and generally engaging, the inclusion of so many minor characters and their stories made the narrative feel a little disjointed. In particular, there was an unnecessary amount of dialogue from insignificant characters.

The real power of the novel is in the friendship and camaraderie between Oskar and Eli. Unlike the present raft of glamorised vampire love stories, this is essentially a nice “me and you versus the world” story about a boy and a girl (well, a sort-of-girl), who protect each other and are all that each other have in an otherwise dark and unforgiving world.

In a novel packed with irredeemable characters, irresponsible adults, paedophiles, drunks, thieves, and bullies, Eli and Oskar stand out as the only ones with a moral conscience. Despite being the supposed “bad guy”, Eli dislikes killing, and her vampirism is almost like an illness, setting her apart from the morally lacking society. Similarly, Eli and Oskar are characterised by their drive to live despite their lives being unpleasant.

This is demonstrated in the novel’s epilogue, where Oskar is leaving on a train with Eli safely packed in trunk. This short epilogue felt somewhat like an afterthought, until I realised that it was, in fact, an addition to the novel by the author to clarify that Eli had not been grooming Oskar to become the next Hakkan. One can only imagine that in a hypothetical future, Oskar would choose to become a vampire to live for an eternity with Eli.

Overall score: 7/10

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