John Lindqvist – Let Me In (Book Review)

(Note that this has been published in English both as Let Me In and Let The Right One In. The author prefers “the right one”, and I also find that to be the more evocative title. I bought the copy with the title Let Me In, though, because I liked its cover much better.)

Let Me In cover

John Lindqvist – Let Me In

A while ago, I wrote an essay about the appeal of horror. After reading John Lindqvist’s excellent Let Me In, though, I notice an important aspect that I missed before: Horror plots remove all our preconceived notions about whether things will end the way they “should”, letting us truly experience the story without knowing where it will go.

As someone who loves getting lost in stories but doesn’t automatically like blood and gore, this may be a major part of horror’s draw for me. I think that most modern stories (especially movies) have abused this feature to the point where it loses its meaning. The shocking notion that the heroes could lose eventually turns into the expectation that they have to lose, and eventually we end up with plots just as formulaic as the ones they replaced. (My least favorite one is where the hero appears to win a standard victory, but then the final scene has the surprise revelation that they actually lost.) It’s yet another example of horror’s subversive potential being turned into something safe.

Let Me In has none of that, though. While I had a lot more knowledge than the characters, and could therefore mutely witness some of the tragedies unfolding, I really didn’t know how the larger plot would go. It ends better for some people than others, but it’s not immediately obvious who will get what conclusion. And, of course, these endings have little to do with what the people “deserve”. Sure, there are clear (and very satisfying) plot arcs in retrospect; Just because a story is unpredictable doesn’t mean it should be chaotic. The important thing is that I don’t feel like Lindqvist was following a clichéd path.

This book is definitely not for the squeamish, though. It starts by establishing a triangle between a cold-blooded child vampire, a pedophile too hesitant to act on his urges, and a bullied young boy with a growing obsession for serial killers. From there, it introduces a cast of related characters in the neighborhood, and heads off in some unexpected directions. If you feel that any of that could make you uncomfortable, you’re probably right. It never feels exploitative, though. This simply unfolds naturally from its unsettling premises.

Fundamentally, Let Me In is about people more than the supernatural. Alcoholism, abuse, and broken relationships do more damage than actual vampire attacks, and those are all presented as part of the same dirty world. (The unrealistic elements, helpfully, remain understated, with just enough details to help us accept that vampires exist but remain rare and unknown.) It’s a coming of age and love story in the tragic vein that Robert Cormier might write, with a perpetually-twelve-year-old outsider and a typical bullied kid giving each other strength. Characters are never detailed, and the writing feels a little stilted at times, but Lindqvist uses peoples’ actions to sketch out believable character portraits. Though the children feel more fully realized than the adults, everyone is sympathetic. Horror is most effective when you can feel for everyone involved, even the ones on opposite sides of a fight, because then you know that someone will get worse than they deserve.

An enjoyably disturbing work, and most of all fair (within its cynical worldview), Let Me In is a story that I would recommend most of all to people who want to get carried away in a good story. There’s no larger moral or philosophical question to be discovered here, but it does provide a completely fresh look at a tired premise.

Grade: A-

  1. December 30th, 2012

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