Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Cannonball Read #04: Let the right one in by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I was first introduced to John Ajvide Lindqvist many years ago, when I read his book ”Handling the undead”. It was an unnerving, unusual book that made a deep impression on me. However, it was going to be a while before I picked up one of his books again.

I saw the film ”Let the right one in” in its original, Swedish version not long after I'd read ”Handling the undead”, and I remember making the connection that it was, in fact, the same author that had written the book the film was based on. The film left me feeling uneasy and wanting to read the book. Again, though, I waited.

Until now. I found the book in a second-hand store and didn't hesitate to buy it. From the first page, I was sucked into the dark, miserable, horrifying world Lindqvist describes. Once again, the now-familiar feeling that something terrible was always about to happen crept into my heart and made me clench my jaw. 

Oscar is a 12-year old boy living his life in fear and mistrust. Growing up in a bleak, almost ghetto-like Swedish suburb without friends or adults he can depend on, he has to try and avoid getting beaten up and humiliated by his bullies every single day. Usually, he fails. One day, Eli moves into the building next door and the two form an unlikely friendship. Finally, some light enters his life and gives him hope that it might all be ok in the end. But Eli is harbouring a secret and horrible things start happening in the neighbourhood.

”Let the right one in” might seem like your average vampire story from reading the blurb on the back cover. And it is, indeed, a gory horror story at its core. But it is so much more than that. The book has to do with hatred and revenge. Social injustices. Exclusion and isolation. Perversity and the stark contrast to the children's innocence. Adults failing children over and over again, and children having to survive in -and adapt to- a world that is cruel to its weakest members. It is easy to despair reading this book. There is a fearful monster at its centre, but strangely enough, this monster has more humanity and compassion in it than the real monsters, who are hiding behind closed doors, behind a façade of normality and - in some cases – authority. But there is love, too. Pure, unadulterated love that knows no socially constructed bounds, a love that grows out of despair and hunger like a flower in a rubbish heap.

When I finished the book, I couldn't get it out of my head. It touched me in a profound way, almost moved me to tears. Even if you ignored the social issues it tackles and take it at face value, it is a book that is suspenseful, near impossible to put down.Well-written, it never sags but is a roller-coaster of emotions, including that sinking feeling in your stomach when things are about to turn ugly. And they turn ugly all the time. Don't miss this one.

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