I’ve seen the Swedish version (Let The Right One In) and the American version (Let Me In), so when I saw the book for sale for 75 cents at a used bookstore, I figured I’d give it a shot. The movies are both pretty slow and quiet (for a vampire movie), and the book is even slower. Lots more subplots, lots more characters, lots more badness. And not the vampire kind of badness – just the daily grind of life kind of badness.
Oskar is a lonely little boy, miserably bullied at school. When a strange little girl moves in to his apartment complex, he’s intrigued. We soon find out (but it takes Oskar longer) that Eli is a vampire, and the man she claims is her father is really her minion, going out to fetch blood for her, or cleaning up her messes when she gets her own meal. Bodies start dropping and people start disappearing, and all the nearby little towns are on edge. Oskar finds out Eli’s secret and works to protect his new (and only) friend, and she inspires him to stand up to the bullies. When the minion is caught, he tries and fails to kill himself, and things get real bad real fast. Then it’s Oskar and Eli against the world, and they both seem to like it that way.
Eli and Oskar are interesting. Eli isn’t a hundred-year-old vampire in a child’s body; she says she’s 12, but “she’s been 12 a long time.” She still seems childlike, even when she’s ripping out people’s throats, so the friendship between the children is believable. Oskar is so desperate for a friend, it’s easy to see why he chooses to help Eli, even though he struggles with the whole murdering thing.
But here’s why you shouldn’t read this book: its unrelenting grimness. Bad things happen to bad people, bad things happen to so-so people. There don’t seem to be any “good” people – even Oskar is a little offputting. Plus, something both of the movies wisely decided to leave out: Eli’s minion, who we spend a lot of time with, is a VERY enthusiastic pedophile. He does Eli’s dirty work for very gross reasons. When he ends up arrested and mostly dead, things get even more unpleasant. Like, put the book down and go watch Wallace and Gromit to clear your brain out for a while unpleasant.
I don’t know what I was expecting from this strange Swedish book. Something light and uplifting like Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?