Let The Right One In
Bram Stoker meets Ingmar Bergman in this coming of age tale about the (undead) girl next door.
Let the right one slip in
And when at last it does
I'd say you were within your rights to bite
The right one and say, "what kept you so long?"
I don’t know if Morrissey had vampires in mind when he wrote the lyrics to Let The Right One Slip In, but they certainly conjure up images of pale skin and blood stained teeth. Especially after reading the debut novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. For a legion of Morrissey fans, Let The Right One In will always be the book that took its title from the song, but for those who discovered the book first, their meanings will be forever intertwined.
For me, the novel was initially just the basis for a fantastic Swedish film directed by Tomas Alfredson, much like Alfredson’s film will be thought of as the basis for the forthcoming (though highly unnecessary) American remake. I first saw the film at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, where it went on to win the award for best narrative feature. Sitting in that dark theater, one could easily feel the chill of the bleak landscape creeping off the screen and into their bones. Now that I’ve read it, that chill is nothing compared to the cold that permeates the characters lives in the novel.
Let The Right One In is the story of Oskar, a quiet 12 year-old boy living with his mother in the snow-covered suburbs of Sweden. He is the target of much bullying at school, and spends his free time playing alone and reading about serial killers. He sneaks out at night and exacts an imaginary revenge, stabbing trees named after classmates with his pocketknife. Then one day a strange young girl moves in next-door and people start dying for real. He suspects she might have something to do with it, but not before he has fallen in love with her.
Take out the vampires and this is a classic coming-of-age story. Over the course of 480 pages, we are drawn into Oskar’s world- from the schoolyard bullying to his relationship with his absentee father to his budding first romance. I don’t think the V-word is even mentioned until more than halfway through. The oppressive gloom and doom of the real world sets the tone, that way when people start dying, it almost seems natural. Contrasted with the sensational way the murders are handled by the Swedish press, the vampire aspects of the novel are treated in a subdued and realistic manner. Traditional vampire mythology applies, but Lindqvist doesn’t beat us over the head with it. He also adds a few nice touches of his own, giving a little spin to the well-trod material.
This is genre done right. Lindqvist gives us strong characters and a well-constructed story that draws us in with every word. He is not concerned with cheap scares, but with the deep-seeded horrors of childhood and suburban angst. Aside from a few fleeting references to the pop culture of the period, Let The Right One In exists outside of time, much like the little girl who never grows old. It is simultaneously otherworldly and naturalistic.
Though once removed from the emotional vampires of his song, I think Morrissey would appreciate Lindqvist’s novel. The two share a commonality in tone, and are both imbued with a deep sense of melancholy. As you read you can almost picture Morrissey as the frightened little boy, living in an icy world, aching for love. His voice is the soundtrack to Oskar’s life. Close your eyes and you can hear it.