Most people who know the title will associate it with the film. But Let The Right One In has come up in papers, conferences and deserves to be dealt with alongside other vampire fictions.
I have one issue with that though. I don’t think the book is about vampires. The main vampiric character, Eli, staunchly refuses the label. There is much talk throughout the novel about vampire mythology. Characters appear to fall into the badly written trap of questioning their sanity when thinking about vampires. In the realms of fiction, why bother? For a book that has been marketed from a vamp-heavy angle, does it really matter if the central characters blindly fall for the assumption that vampires exist?
So far, the mythological traits of the vampire are all there: inability to walk in the sun, the need to subsist on a diet of blood, fangs, not being able to enter another’s house (which is curiously present in fictions like True Blood) and seemingly eternal life. You could be forgiven for seeing it as a vampire novel. But it’s not. Eli, and one of her victims, Virginia, give accounts of the experience. It is “an infection”, “a separate brain is forming” that attaches to the heart and makes decisions of its own accord. Vampirism is not a way of life, or a choice. It is an infection that controls the corpse it is hosted by. Which to me sounds like some strange cross between zombies and vampires. In an age where zombies are gaining momentum in popular media, perhaps we should have seen that it was only a matter of time before the two ‘species’ crossbred and adopted each other’s traits.
The book is fascinating though. Brutally visceral, wonderfully graphic…and at times too much for me to stomach. The most jarring element of the novel was the paedophilia. Lindqvist sets the tone early on with a scene in the locker rooms. Hakan, Eli’s guardian of sorts, is laying in wait to drain the blood from a young boy. Whilst he does so, he witness the young (they are described as 12 or 13) boys undressing and orgasms despite himself. I was frankly shocked at this point, but the scenes only seemed to get worse. Hakan’s motivation for becoming Eli’s guardian appears to be the sexual stimulation he gets out of being around a minor. Oddly enough, Eli has been stripped of sexuality, literally. The ‘vampire’ has no genitals, only a “smooth surface” where something had once been. Even though the vampire is de-sexualised (in opposition to every other modern vampire who combines feeding with sex), the world around it is so overtly sordid that reading the behaviour of the humans makes us question our own race. It is interesting that the vampire has been used in this instance to tackle the taboo subject of paedophilia. Because Eli is more mature than an actual 12 year old (being over 200 years old), it gives her/him the ability to know what is right and wrong, and refuse to be subject to certain experiences.
Although genderless, it is revealed in the latter half of the novel that Eli is short for Elias, and that the vampire was once male. This confuses Oskar, Eli’s friend, and romantic interest. It is also made more confusing by the fact that Lindqvist changes genders halfway through the novel when referring to Eli. After the initial shock, Oskar maintains his interest in Eli, but it doesn’t come across as sexual. Rather, it appears that Oskar is just desperate for someone to connect with. A broken family home coupled with bullying have taken their toll, and leave Oskar with thoughts that we (cinematically savvy) would associate with a future serial killer. Eli provides salvation in her acceptance of Oskar.
When reading, it made me think back to the film versions.
2008’s Swedish Let the Right One In is the better of the two.
The film itself communicates the bleak, despairing atmosphere of the novel. The soundtrack is limited, relying instead on the minute expressions and sounds of the cast. Elements of paedophilia have been kept to a bare minimum, instead concentrating on the relationship between the human and the non human.* It is more a story of the struggle of a young boy to escape an emotionally and physically abusive life.
Eli is far more vampiric in the film.
However, it was interesting to see they picked an actress who was able to look suitably androgynous.
In comparison, the American version seemed like a milder version:
Chloe Moretz plays ‘Abby’ which is a feminine name, and therefore does not allow for any underlying hints of the novel to emerge. Regardless of whether it is supposed to be an ‘adaptation’, the film’s cinematography was startlingly similar, but without the same impact.
There is so much more I could write about this book, but for now, I’ve covered the basics…
*Although, interestingly, in the novel, the most monstrous character is Hakan, the predatory paedophile. After burning his face off with acid, jumping 10 storeys and surviving, he is on the run. A journalist aptly describes the fascination with finding him:
“It’s a search for the archetypal Monster. This man’s appearance, what he’s done. He is the Monster, the evil at the heart of all fairy tales. And every time we catch it, we like to pretend its over for good.”