A Child Lost in Endless Night

Author: John Ajvide Lindqvist

An unexpected friendship blooms when a bullied 12 year old boy who is obsessed with visions of violence and serial killers meets the new neighbor girl. Eli is not someone Oskar would have ever envisioned himself drawn to: she is dirty, disheveled, only comes out at night, and has strange mannerisms. Yet she accepts him, and something in her haunted eyes attracts him. During the day when he is beaten and bullied he thinks of his secret nighttime friendship with her.

Meanwhile a sadistic killer is on the loose. A killer Oskar secretly dreams about. This man kills brutally, leaving no blood. And he has attacked a child. Who knows where he will pick his next victim. No one is safe in Let the Right One In.

Only a local group of alcoholics has a sneaking suspicion about the killer and the creature he or she harbors. When one of alcoholics goes missing, the rest of the grou[ slowly becomes involved in something far more devastating, far more horrible, than they could have ever expected.

two people sittingAs the threads grow together author John Ajvide Lindqvist examines survival and unlikely love. It’s not the usual vampire story. The glamour is gone, and only the sadness and the brutality remains, focusing on the story of one lone child, abused through the centuries, seeking connections in the dark.

Let the Right One In is a strange novel; it’s meandering and deeply depressing, with a mix of unpalatable depravity peppered alongside a story that is only revealed in hints and long ago visions. At first, it’s hard for the reader to get a bead on the separate storylines, much less like the characters. Oskar’s abuse at the hands of other children is brutal; yet his ideation of murder, born of a sense of vengeance and the inability to fight back, makes him a difficult character to like. His play is equally distressing with his knife wielding visions of cutting other children to pieces, of rising victorious through violence. It’s chilling and off putting at the same time, dark as a frozen over pond, muddied and bloodied with things we don’t want to contemplate, even in a horror story. And it’s only just beginning.

Eli, the young girl next door (and, obviously, our vampire), is the victim of pedophilia – a sexual violation that apparently started centuries ago, leading to her eventual conversion into the creature she has become. Her current sidekick, Håkan, a major figure in the unfolding story, is likewise a pedophile and his predilections and desires are hardly hidden much less sanitized. It’s a sinister story, one that focuses less on the boogeyman in the night and more on the horrors of human debasement, abuse, and depravity. This takes the entire story out of the realm of “enjoyable” and transitions it into something far sadder and more shattering. Many times I simply wanted to bleach my brain after reading. Even though there are no graphic details, the atrocities committed against children, including this one poor child stuck in an eternity of never-ending abuse, is enough to cause a real depressive fugue.

eyeMoving onwards from the content of the narrative, I want to spend a moment talking about the layout of Let the Right One In. Lindqvist has a memorable story here, yet many of the elements are fragmented and sparse. We spend a lot of time with a huge amount of shifting characters, especially local alcoholics who slowly become involved. It’s difficult to keep them all separated and to become invested in their endless chatter. Only towards the end does their presence add to the story.

The narrative is slow, and when we finally start to get some real answers, some insights into Eli’s true nature and needs, the glimpses are mere fragments. We see a bit of Eli’s past – how she became a vampire – but the details are very sparse and while the story is hinted, it is never really told. This is ultimately unsatisfying. How did Eli get transformed and why? How did she escape her creator and amass wealth and a semblance of a separate life? How and why does she continue as she is, and what will this ultimately mean for Oskar?

The conclusion finally draws all the numerous characters together, including the gang of Oskar’s bullies and the local barfly group. Yet for all its depth and darkness, Let the Right One In answers very few of its own questions and only sheds a faint light into the sorrowful recesses of a creature made of night and drawn in desperation. It’s an interesting story in many ways, but not one that is told to the best advantage and not one without gaps. In the end, I preferred the less disturbing, more glamorous vampire lore to the aching sadness depicted here despite the ingenuity of the idea.


– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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