If you’re in need of a good vampire novel, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let Me In is dark, horrifying, and original. No sparkly vampire romances here! It’s gruesome and gross, the characters – and not just the vampires – do appalling things, and as a cat owner, I was completely revolted by the shut in who lived with an unreasonably high number of cats. I myself love a good vampire story, and this definitely falls into that category, but I had a really hard time enjoying this book because I found it hard to like or sympathize with the characters.
The basic plot works something like this: a young girl, Eli, moves in to suburban apartments in 1981 Sweden with her father, befriends the boy next door, and develops a weird, non-sexual romance with him. People soon start dying in horrifying ways, and lo and behold, it turns out the young girl is a vampire. However, even though Eli is the catalyst for the death that slowly spreads through the community, the real driving force behind the plot seems to be the utter misery of all the characters. They all reflect the grubby, pathetic side of humanity – bullies, alcoholics, pedophiles, drug addicts, teenaged delinquents, the aforementioned shut in with far too many cats. Mothers are weak and powerless to control their children. Fathers are absent and useless. Lovers can’t get their personal lives together well enough to be together no matter how much they love each other. And so on.
Everyone is a victim and everyone is a monster. In fact, sometimes it was hard for me to tell the difference. Oskar, young boy who lives next door to Eli, is habitually bullied by classmates, but he also fantasizes about killing people and cuts out newspaper articles about murders and serial killers. When he finally fights back against the bullies, he becomes somewhat of a bully himself. The shut in won’t come forward about a murder he saw, the kids who bullied Oskar decide to escalate their revenge to murder when he fights back, the pedophile literally becomes a monster and attempts the things he wasn’t brave enough to do when he was human. The only person I sympathized with in any way was Eli, who seemed to be more of a victim than a monster, even if she’s the vampire in the story.
It is a fantastically plotted book. There is a huge cast, but none of their individual plot lines are wasted and weave together seamlessly at the end. The mechanism of Eli’s vampirism is original and kind of cool, and it’s refreshing not to have the hero of the piece running in with a quip to save the day.
However, this book only gets 3 stars. Not because I thought it was badly written, but because I just didn’t enjoy it. Sometimes we just don’t have chemistry with the books we read, and for me, this was one of them. I kept glancing at the page numbers to see how close I was to the final page, and I thought I would never get to the end. But please don’t let that keep you from reading it. From a purely objective point of view, this is a 5 star horror novel, and I recommend it to anyone who’s looking for something dark and full of monsters.