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A coming-of-age fable - with vampires,
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This review is from: Let the Right One In (Paperback)
Let The Right One In, the English translation of the novel Låt Den Rätte Komma In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is a vampire novel that has as much to do with the rites of passage one young Swedish boy passes through as it does with the existence of the undead and their feeding practices. Oskar, a 12-year-old boy dealing the problems of verbal and physical bullying and the consequent incontinence he suffers from, is desperately in need of a friend. He takes refuge in his imagined alter ego - an unafraid Oskar who kills his tormentors - and takes out his anger by stabbing trees in the woods near his home. Then, one night, Eli appears, a girl of the same age who he soon discovers to be a 200-year-old vampire. Meanwhile, a series of strange killings are taking place in the neighbourhood.
The narrative cuts between the lives of Oskar and his blossoming romance with Eli, his teenage acquaintance Tommy, and a group of alcoholics and unemployed semi-drifters who are the victims of the attacks.
The story is, without doubt, riveting - but only really takes flight in the latter half. The author spends the first hundred pages establishing a background, which can often feel sluggish, as the constant cut between narrative voices results in a plot which takes far longer to establish than it should. There are strange ticks in the writing - such as Lindqvist's tendency to italicise all his narrators' fragmented thoughts in a way that is almost artistic but more often irritating - and the author frequently strays into territory regarding Eli's past that leaves explanation or elaboration lacking and ultimately seems unnecessary.
The drive that the story maintains after the inital background compensates for the failed attempts at stylistic prowess. The constant plot twists, the developments in character relationships, and the new treatment of the ancient vampire fable keep the reader hooked. Ultimately a great thriller, but not nearly as art-house as the consequent film adaptation. There are moments of genuine beauty, particularly in the introduction and perfectly rendered conclusion of the text, and Lindqvist's writing is never garden-variety, of course, it just falls short of the stylistic beauty it aims for.