Tuesday, August 04, 2009

What Does a Podpeep Read -- c.anne.gardner

Let The Right One In
By John Ajvide Lindgvist

The cover detail: It is autumn 1981 when the inconceivable comes to Blackeberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenage boy is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last---revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day. But the murder is not the most important thing on his mind. A new girl has moved in next door---a girl who has never seen a Rubik’s Cube before, but who can solve it at once. There is something wrong with her, though, something odd. And she only comes out at night. . . .

I discussed the movie version of this book on the site already with respect to individual interpretation of the relationship between Oskar and Eli. See here for more detail. Normally, I find movie adaptations to be lacking, but in this case, the director and screenwriters did a superfine job adapting it to film. I do however caution potential readers to watch the movie first before reading the book and not the other way around. At 480 pages there was just too much to the book to fit properly on the screen, so the filmmakers chose to take a very intimate approach to the story and decided to strip everything away in favour of a tight focus on the psychodrama between Oskar and Eli, which was in essence the heart of the story. Manichean theology divides the world into two cardinal principles: light and dark or good and evil. God dwells in eternal light, and the devil is consigned to darkness. Humans have day and night to live in equally, where both good and evil can exist in balance. This duality is borne out over and over again throughout the story, specifically in Oskar's "darkness" and Eli's innately human capacity for "light."

The remainder of the 480 pages was devoted to the town of Blackeberg and more importantly the people of Blackeberg. There are varied side dramas and converging plotlines. Every character involved is explored deeply and with care: each character’s emotional state of mind affects the events in the story. There are a lot of human issues addressed in the work, from basic human loneliness, to broken homes, single parents, alcoholism, low self-esteem, juvenile delinquency … The characters idiosyncratic emotional responses to their surroundings and the events that unfold are akin to the freezing and thawing of the landscape. What is hidden can’t stay hidden forever. The writing is thorough, uncomplicated, and we spend a great deal of time in each of the character’s heads – scenery excursions are kept to a relevant minimum for affect. The gore, like the film, is also kept to a minimum. The horror is life, the monster, an innocent manifestation of its abuses. The book contains some shocking revelations not found in the film, most of it quite disturbing -- so I won’t get into plot spoilers here -- and there is just enough vampire lore to keep the reader grounded in the mythology without being cliché. This is definitely an original and engaging story more so from a psychological standpoint than a traditional horror one.

In my previous post, I discussed with a friend our very diametrically opposed viewpoints on the expanding relationship between Eli and Oskar. After reading the book, I was pleased to find that my assessment of their relationship was the correct one. Their friendship was that of trust and respect. There was no manipulation there, just a kinship of a sorts. Definitely worth the four days it took me to read it. If you are a vampire nut like I am and are sick to death of vampire cliché, then this book is for you. If you prefer pitch black psychological drama then deviant and damaged is what you will get, but hope is what you will find in the end.

Cheryl Anne Gardner


Jim Murdoch said...

This is a big book - and I avoid big books like the plague - but what I've read of the film has been very good. One reviewer suggested it was the best vampire movie of all time. That sounds like a real recommendation but then I'm not sure there have been that many great vampire films for it to beat. That said I will make a point of seeing it. I didn't realise that it was adapted from a book so we'll see.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I love big books, if they are done well. Most are not, and the meandering scenery can't keep me engaged. I read King's The Stand in 4 days and that was over 1000 pages. Lukyanenko's The Watch Series is another fine effort, each book well over 400 pages and not a dull moment in any of them.

Funny, I do love a good doorstop of a book, but I will never write one. As a reader I love them, but as a writer, they just don't feel right to me. In any event, writing lengthy novels has just as many pitfalls as writing a novella or a short story, and when we are reviewing them, we need to keep their specifics in mind. I would never compare one to the other: structurally you just can't do it.

For this one, I recommend the movie and the book, but as completely separate entities. It is a "great" vampire film and a great psychological drama. The book is much different in its broader examination of humanity. I would put the book in the same category as "Wisdom of Crocodiles." Awesome vampire film, truly original on so many levels, more so than any other "vampire" film you will ever see, and the book is epic in proportion-- nothing short of genius and a doorstop as well. I'll be reviewing that one next.