Ever since I first heard whispers from my college friends a few years ago about what was allegedly "the most fucked up book you will ever read," I envisioned this book as some sort of shadowy and sub-cultured masterpiece like something that would be created if Anne Rice and Marquis de Sade teamed up to write about vampires. As it turns out, I was expecting way too much from Let The Right One In.
It seems that what horrified my friends and neighbors didn't really break any new ground for subversive literature as far as I'm concerned. What is here, however, is a very solid vampire novel with nearly 500 pages of pure, drab, working-class Swedish misery. This violence shocks people not because it's incredibly graphic, but because the story is based so strongly in reality, and Lindqvist writes about things that don't go on in direct sunlight and that no one wants to talk about, things such as parental neglect, rampant alcoholism, violence and substance abuse facilitated by teenagers, paedophilia, and other things in general that make lots of people very uncomfortable. It's almost like the author is using vampirism as a metaphor for all of these things, and these unlikeable yet undeniably sympathetic characters are definitely all vampiric in different ways. I'd say Lindqvist's biggest skill as a writer is weaving an atmosphere and drawing you into it, and this novel takes place unquestionably in our own world, even though it's about vampires.
This atmosphere is diminished greatly, however, by a few questionable structure decisions. There are constant perspective shifts, a la Dan Brown, that makes it impossible to stay in one character's head very long in order to really feel what they're experiencing. There is too much attention given to uninteresting characters and not enough allotted to the book's better characters, some of which had the potential to be fascinating, such as Eli.
I found the writing overall to be a bit stilted, and at no point could I really call it compelling, though I'm content to blame the translation for this and other problems, because I've found that the people that read this book in the original Swedish have nothing but good things to say about it. Something I noticed about the translation, and this could be a bit of a spoiler so I'm going to mark it as such, is that the book has an awkward time handling pronouns when it comes to Eli, who is a boy that has been castrated and dresses as a girl. It starts referring to Eli as "she", then as more information is revealed goes back and forth between calling Eli "he" and just being unsure what to call him. This was interesting to me because I understand that Swedish, along with most languages besides English, has a gender neutral pronoun that can be used to refer to someone if you aren't sure of their sex that does not translate to offensive terms such as "it." It would be interesting to be able to read Swedish so I could see how the original text dealt with Eli's pronouns as opposed to the English translation. Hopefully English will get a gender neutral pronoun eventually, as we're rather far behind in that respect, and I would say it contributes to people being a bit less tolerant of different gender identities as a result.