The tagline on my copy is ‘A vampire love story’, but that doesn’t come anywhere near describing John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In. In a sense, it is a love story but ever since Twilight became popular I think that description does it a disservice. It’s a book about love and growing up; the inclusion of vampires magnifies the terror of loving someone and the courage needed to accept them for who they are.

Let the Right One In takes place in 1980s Stockholm. Twelve year-old Oskar meets Eli, a young girl who seems even odder than Oskar. She only ever comes out at night and never feels the cold. Oskar, bullied and alone, is drawn to Eli and they become friends. When a string of strange murders occur that Oskar suspects are connected to Eli and her ‘father’, Oskar must come to terms with Eli’s true nature or lose his only friend.

Lindqvist has such a visceral way of writing, the descriptions, especially of the blood and horror, are so vivid they stay with you for a long time: ‘The naked, glistening muscles contracted and relaxed, contorting as if the head had been replaced by a mass of freshly killed and butchered eels.’ It’s Lindqvist’s ability to conjure up images like this that make Let the Right One In a great horror novel, it is genuinely chilling and gruesome. It’s also sweet. Oskar and Eli both desperately need someone to understand them and stand by them no matter what, and they find that in each other. Their intimacy makes it difficult to believe that child Eli is the same vampire luring people to their deaths and manipulating her ‘father’, a paedophile named Håkan, into helping her kill.

Håkan is the most terrifying part of the novel. From the outset he is a deeply unsettling character. He’s willing to murder for Eli in exchange for the mere chance of feeling her touch, yet he can’t go through with paying to have sex with an underage prostitute even though he wants to. Håkan’s actions are monstrous but he goes about them with an impotence that somehow makes him even more horrifying. We witness some events from Håkan’s perspective, we know what he’s thinking, that he is scared and pathetic. He’s more than a caricature of evil, making him an unforgettable representation of evil.

Parts of Let the Right One In are deliciously grisly, producing that feeling that horror should elicit. You want to look away, while revelling in being terrified. Yet, the delicate and confusing relationship between Eli and Oskar adds depth, making for an emotionally harrowing tale.

The premise of Let the Right One In, the innocent bond formed between a child and a vampire, leads you to think vampires aren’t necessarily the enemy but Lindqvist doesn’t shy away from showing the pain Eli’s savagery inflicts on others. The story isn’t only told from the isolated perspective of Oskar and Eli but also from that of those Eli hurts, people who see Eli as nothing more than a monster.

I found the depiction of turning into a vampire particularly poignant. Lindqvist really captured the feeling of the all-consuming need to drink blood, and the sad, frightening prospect of being condemned to that life for eternity. He doesn’t glamourise vampirism; it’s a devastatingly isolated life. Lindqvist’s includes in his version of vampire mythology that most vampires kill themselves rather than live with what they are.

Let the Right One In benefits from telling the vampire story through the lives of ordinary Swedish people, instead of on a grand mythic scale. It is original in its complexity in dealing with the mythology, pairing a coming-of-age tale with blood thirsty vampires.

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