I’m hesitant about vampires.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m anti-vampire—an increasingly common stance in the post-Twilight world—but I do approach books about them with some degree of skepticism. They are, as a trope, a bit shopworn, and the sheer volume of stories about them have worn several crisscrossing ruts in the narrative earth. A careless write can all-too-easily slip into one, and find themselves unable to extract their story from its cliched depths.
As such, I read the first pages of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s book uncertain as to whether I’d bother finishing it. Part of this reluctance came from the fact that I couldn’t quite remember why it was I’d requested it in the first place—due to a processing error at my local library, I received my copy about 18 months after I’d put a hold on it. What passing whimsy first sparked my interest I’ve no idea.
In any case, I read the first chapter reluctantly, but after fifty pages or so my reluctance vanished. While it opens with a fairly common scene (shy protagonist, unpopular, beset by bullies), the story grows by maintaining the courage of its convictions. It treats vampirism not as an adolescent power fantasy, but as a terrible disease, which is how some of the earliest writers in the genre envisioned it.
Another strength is that it delves into the psychology of one of the more peculiar roles in the vampire mythos: the familiar. For those less familiar (no pun intended; seriously, I only noticed this while proofreading) with vampire fiction, a familiar is a vampire’s human servant and protector, performing the tasks that the vampire, exiled from daylight, cannot. Usually, the familiar serves the vampire with the hopes of one day joining his ranks. In Let the Right One In, his motives are different. The familiar, a middle-aged man named Håkan, has no interest in becoming a vampire himself. Instead, he goes about his grisly duties in order to feed his own particular hunger, one that is, in its way, just as sinister as the vampire’s.
I hesitate to comment on the prose, as the book is in translation from the Swedish, but he version I read was well-written, lyrical without being too flowery, though the occasional over-reliance on sentence fragments stuck out.
All in all, I’d recommend Let the Right One In for readers seeking a thoughtful, modern take on a classic trope, and those who can handle taboo subjects and a bit of gore.