Thomas Dunne Books, 2004, 472 pages
Set in 1983, Let Me In is the horrific tale of Oskar and Eli. It begins with the grizzly discovery of the body of a teenage boy, emptied of blood. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last - revenge for all the bad things the bullies at school do to him, day after day.
While Oskar is fascinated by the murder, it is not the most important thing in his life. A new girl has moved in next door - a girl who has never seen a Rubik’s cube before, but who can solve it at once. They become friends. Then something more. But there is something wrong with her, something odd. And she only comes out at night....
This is a classic vampire story that will remind King fans very much of Salem's Lot. It has the same dark modern tone, set in a bleak townscape where the real evils are mundane things like alcoholism, unemployment, and domestic abuse, and the addition of a supernatural monster just increases the body count a little.
In many ways, Let the Right One In reads like a statement of revulsion against the banal, dehumanizing sterility of modern life. The newly built Swedish suburb in which the story takes place is one described in the opening pages as one without a history, without churches, without culture. Even Hakan, the gruesome, pedophiliac Renfield of the tale, mopes about the banal horrors of modernism.
No respect for beauty - that was characteristic of today's society. The work of the great masters were at most employed as ironic references or in advertising. Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" where you see a pair of jeans in place of the spark.
The whole point of the picture at least as he saw it was that these two monumental bodies each came to an end in two index fingers that almost but not quite touched. There was a space between them a millimeter or so wide. And in this space: life. The sculptural enormity and richness of detail of this picture was simply a frame a backdrop to emphasize the crucial void in the center. The point of emptiness that contained everything.
And in its place someone had superimposed a pair of jeans.
Lindqvist is a very evocative writer, capturing cold, dirt, darkness, bleakness, and of course, blood and terror. There is a lot of blood (and other bodily fluids) in this book. It's deliberately revolting in places. Not just because Eli has been stringing along her assistant/guardian Hakan for years with the occasional touching (but no more than that) of her prepubescent, undead body.
"I'm only twelve. But I've been that for a long time."
It's also a friendship story, though. Our other protagonist is Oskar, a fat little nerd and child of a single mother who is the natural target of the bullies in his school. When he makes friends with the strange girl who just moved in next door, he's initially fascinated by the fact that she walks around barefoot in the snow, smells like decay, and has never seen a Rubik's Cube before. She tells him immediately that they can't be friends — and yet, a friendship does form, initially over that Rubik's Cube. One of the humanizing elements of poor Eli, the vampire child who's never had a life, is that she likes puzzles (no doubt not having much else to do with all the time she has to spend hiding in the dark).
The story of Eli and Oskar's friendship, bringing a little light into Eli's existence, and giving Oskar the confidence to stand up to his tormentors, might have been an uplifting one, except for all the very dark undertones, and of course the climactic bloodbath we know is coming.
Bloody in Swedish and English
Let the Right One In has been made into two surprisingly good movies, both faithful adaptations of the novel, though neither could include all the details (such as Eli's origin, or all the subplots about the secondary characters). Both are available on Netflix.
Let The Right One In (2008)
The original Swedish version captures a bit more of the subtext. Many of the scenes deceptively portray Oskar as a sweet innocent, and Eli as an innocent victim of her condition.
In the book, Oskar is annoyingly obsequious at the feet of his tormentors, while secretly dreaming of exacting bloody retribution, and the film occasionally shows us these glimpses of the darkness that Eli senses and cultivates.
Both versions render a surprisingly nuanced, dark, yet sympathetic Eli, with all the ambiguity she possessed in the novel.
And of course, both versions give us the infamous pool scene.
Let Me In (2010)
The American version is titled "Let Me In" and sets the story in Los Alamos, New Mexico, a barren high desert town with suitable amounts of darkness and snow. Since it's American, the film makes sure to hammer on the fact that it's the 80s, with constant 80s soundtracks, glimpses of Ronald Reagan on the news, etc.
Oscar, in this version, is much more of a creepy little twerp; the bullies who pick on him are still jerks, but you can see why he's not popular. While the pedophilia is entirely left out of the American movie, in some ways the relationship between "Anna" and her adult minion is made more creepy by Oscar's discovery of old photographs of the two of them when he was Oscar's age... A brilliant touch that invites us to speculate, as the novel does, whether it was Eli's plan to groom a replacement for her aging accomplice all along.
Both movies are bloody and creepy and very much worth watching, after reading the book.
Verdict: A very good vampire story that can hold its own with the best of Stephen King, Let the Right One In is distinctly Swedish, yet doesn't lose much in the Americanized film version. Recommended if you like vampires who are a little ambiguous, but still quite dark, and you can handle a high gore quotient. The book and both of the movies deserve to be horror classics. 9/10.
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