Let the Right One In review

Sympathy for the vampire

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Author: John Ajvide Lundqvist

Publisher: Quercus

513 pages • £12.99

ISBN: 978-1-847-24169-6


There’s more to horror than just giblets and gore. Real horror is when you’re made to see the world through the eyes of the monster, and you sympathise with them.

From the lonely, nerdy kid, bullied at school, who fantasises about being a murderer, to the serial killer, the vampire, the undead monster stripped by mutilation and cruelty of every human characteristic except love; Swedish author John Lindqvist fills the pages of Let the Right One In with horrors, but thanks to his skill, every one of his gallery of killers, rejects and losers invites our compassion and sympathy. There’s no villain, no lurking malevolence, no evil; only the infectious misery of the world, and the occasional unforeseeable act of courage, loyalty and love that keeps us going. Evil would be too easy; a cop-out, a scapegoat. The vampire’s just as much a victim as its target, hunted as much as hunter.

Getting you to buy into a world-view so alien calls for exceptional writing, but Lundqvist’s style is deceptively low-key. The plot is complex, at some points as precisely timed as a farce. The pace is brisk, the narrative grabs you from the start and won’t let go. Small, briefly-observed glimpses of detail create atmosphere like fl ashes of light in a dark room. The blood and guts are truly horrific, not because they’re splashed around like ketchup, but because we care about the people they’re ripped out of.

Given that it’s such a bleak book, it ought to be depressing, but it isn’t. In the dramatic final rescue sequence, the vampire somehow becomes an angel of deliverance. There’s definite sleight-of-hand here, but the way Lindqvist manages to pull what amounts to a happy ending out of his conjurer’s hat is one of many impressive things about a genuinely remarkable book.

Tom Holt

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