Let the Right One In - John Ajvide Lindquist - Book Review ★★★★★



Lolita meets Interview With The Vampire in this delightful horror-comedy novel, Let the Right One In.

Synopsis:
In the regular working class Swedish suburb of Blackeberg, where nothing exciting ever happens, a young girl and her father arrive innocuously and soon there are rumours of a murder on the loose. Living next doors is a young boy - Oskar. A friendless, chubby adolescent who is severely bullied by two of his classmates. Fortunately for him, he strikes up a friendship with the new girl next door. She’s a little odd and her dad seems like an outright creep - but finally, it seems like things are looking up for Oskar, even if things may not be going so well for others ...

Setting:
It's wintertime, a time for snow, early evenings, frozen over water bodies, and skating. Blackeberg is just another suburb lying near Stockholm. It is a testament to the fact that one of the happiest countries in the world can still contain bullied kids and a poor lower working class. They might be happier than their American counterparts, but they still fall in the same categories. 

Characters:
Surprisingly, there are many characters in this novel, each one with distinct personas and a descriptive back story and with a significant role to play. Even the most insignificant and passing character plays an important part in the story.
But the story focuses on four groups of characters - 
1. Oskar, his separated parents, Eli and Hagan, 
2. Oskar and his bullies, 
3. An older teenager Tommy, his single mom, and her boyfriend, 
4. A group of old-timers always catching up for drinks at the local bar.
There are even more secondary and tertiary characters, but Eli's arrival largely affects the above group of people. 

Conflict:
The story conflict starts with the arrival of Eli - a blessing for Oskar but a curse for the town. Though her arrival is just a setting for exposing the existing everyday conflicts of all these characters which are super relatable. 
On a side note - I just checked the official Wikipedia page for this novel and was surprised to realise that this book deals with a slew of serious subjects. I guess I was so busy enjoying the novel it's only now that I'm realising it.


Positives:
Biggest positive? This book made me laugh. Character flaws are highlighted comically, and there's a lot of absurdist humour. Even the horror scenes, in the beginning, have a comical description to them. 
The horror elements in this novel are excellent and caught me off guard when it takes a surprising turn.
The book ending is also a lot more hopeful than the movie version - I was prepared for a punch in the gut - but all I got was almost a happy ending.
Apart from the above things, character building in the novel is stellar. Quite a few characters are utterly unlikable - but the author has made them super relatable.
It's also amazing how well John Ajvide Lindqvist has captured the spirit of adolescent kids. Most child protagonists in novels are portrayed as snowflakes. But the kids in this story are ultra realistic. They aren't smarter than the other kids or going through a coming of age experience which has made them very self-aware - they're just average kids - which I believe is a very hard character type to personify.
The book is also very stoic - the main character Oskar is a bullied kid which should be hard to read about - but the book is written in a way that you are never asked to feel sorry for him. That's another thing I really enjoy about this book - John Ajvide Lindqvist respects a reader's boundary and never in any part of the novel asks you to feel bad for any of the characters despite their harrowing experience. 

Negatives:
The middle part of the story kind of sagged. And the end felt abrupt. Also, I had all these preconceived notions I was going to read a vampire romance - which was completely false - so that one is on me.

Conclusion:
Loved it! Especially considering I had DNF'd it at one point. In fact, I love it so much - I'm going to buy this book - because I definitely want to read it again. 
On the technical front the writing is flawless - very old school - but in a good way. 
A lot of recently published fiction that I've read either has a very fan-fictiony vibe or a very cinematic feel to it (which again isn't a bad thing). But when I got used to the pace of the novel and readjusted my expectations, I really started enjoying it. I did DNF it at one point - but that was because of my preconceived notions.
It's made me realise I should really give up on my desire to read a book super fast. This book has mellowed me down and brought back to me the joy of enjoying a story in bits and pieces and not in a monster swallow as how we enjoy a story through movies these days.
In all honesty - the romance between Oskar and Eli has a small role in the larger scheme of things. The book is more of a horror-comedy-drama about a small town in which a child vampire walks in and bit by bit chaos ensues.
I would also like to talk about the movies here - not sure about the Swedish movie - but the Hollywood movie definitely came in too soon on the heels of the Twilight saga. So it feels like a very half-hearted attempt at restoring the vampire genre to its former glory, and that did not endear me to it. This - despite the movie having a more gut-wrenching and meaningful story-line. Also casting Chloe Grace Moretz as Eli was the most absurd decision ever. Totally robs the story of its power where the vampire is originally portrayed as a gender-fluid person. I don't think I will ever watch the Hollywood version, but I'm definitely going to see the Swedish one.
As a vampire story, it is definitely 10x better than Twilight, but I'm not about to trash the glittery vampire saga because I still am kind of a sucker for the books. But this is definitely a leg up on Anne Rice and Dracula.
Very hard to believe it is John Ajvide Lindqvist's debut novel. It's written with the finesse of a veteran writer.

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