Monday, January 9, 2012

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist — 496 pgs

In this supernatural and dramatic novel we meet Oskar, a young boy who is being mercilessly bullied at school, and Eli, a strange girl who might not be what she first appears to be. One lonely evening while Oskar is plotting revenge against the boys who are ruining his life, he discovers the strange Eli at the playground and is intrigued by her very obvious differences from the other girls he knows. But what Eli hides is much more than her physical differences. She has aligned herself with a horrible and unpalatable man to fulfill her needs, a man who will stop at nothing to give Eli the things she needs but who also wants a bizarre payment in return. Meanwhile, a group of ambivalent outcast alcoholics will become embroiled in Eli’s dangerous fight for survival, and one by one, they will all come to see that the little girl who looks so innocent and frail is in reality a powerful and savage enemy. But for Oskar, Eli will become an unlikely savior, one who has the power to lift him from the hands of his foes and bring him the peace he craves. In this tale of an unlikely and frightening little girl and her struggle to stay alive, readers will repeatedly cross between horror, betrayal and survival to a powerful climax that will leave them both stunned and cheering for the disadvantaged misfits that this tale so powerfully encompasses.

When I was casting about for a Halloween read, I briefly considered this book and got some great feedback from Sandy and Natalie that it would be the perfect choice. I didn’t read it at that time due to its length, but for some reason, I decided I wanted to start off the new year with a creepy and disturbing read and went ahead and got right to it in the first few days of 2012. What I found here was more than disturbing and powerful. It was a tale of suspense and grotesqueness that kept me completely engrossed and put a permanent grimace on my face the entire time I was reading. The monsters in this tale were in no way predictable and the cast of characters was so maligned and repulsive that I simply could not look away. It was a pretty impressive read.

I felt extremely sympathetic toward Oskar’s plight. What he went through was no ordinary bullying, and every time the perpetrators of his torture showed up, my stomach knotted with tension. Oskar lived a nightmare with these boys and there was no one to help him. It made me so angry to see that even the teachers at Oskar’s school refused to get involved and his plight reminded me that there are so many kids out there that are suffering the way that this boy was. When the strange Eli first appeared, I was moved that Oskar had found a friend, but later I realized that Eli was more than that: she was his power and his retribution. Though she was ill-dressed and more than a little malodorous, Eli began to move from the realm of monster to something closely resembling human in her interactions with Oskar. It was their friendship that kept my hope alive for these two confused little people, but there were secrets that Eli was keeping from Oskar, secrets that were chilling and more than a little stomach churning.

Yes, Eli was not what she first appeared to be, but even in her extremely dangerous and loathsome habits, she was not the real monster of this story. The real monsters were the terribly flawed people around her, including the repellent and utterly abhorrent man who was fostering Eli and ensuring her survival. In the mid-section of this book, this man undergoes a hideous change at his own hand and truly becomes the outward monstrosity that he has always been on the inside. The other true villains are the bullies who push Oskar to his breaking point, proving once and for all that the true freaks of nature are the ones that live among us disguised as normal people. One may argue that Eli is the real problem, the real instrument of evil, but I posit that this is only how it appears on the surface and a thorough reader will easily see that Eli is not the one to be feared, though she is far from safe and wholesome.

While I found this book to be highly disturbing for oh so many reasons, it was also captivating and it forced me to ask questions about the true nature of evil and about the innocence that abounds, even in those who appear to be anything but innocent. The book was filled with monstrousness of all types and there was no scarcity of brazen and horrific images, but at its core, this was a story of friendship and loyalty, trust and love. It may have been hard to see these altruistic nuggets amid the mire of ugliness that surrounded them, but the more I think on it, the more I come to believe that this was a story about faith, hope and the courage to do the things you must, despite the price you must pay to get them done.

Discovering and reading this book was quite an experience for me, for while a lot of it was hard to swallow and made my knees weak, it was like finding a diamond in a pile of refuse. It was disturbingly graphic and scary, but the fact remains that it told a very powerful story in a way that will captivate many. If you’re not a reader with a strong stomach, I would say that this one is better avoided, but if you can look past the gore and discomfort, this is a book that will blow you away with its implications. A truly one of a kind way to start off the reading year. Recommended.

27 comments:

bermudaonion said...

You made me chuckle when you said it was repulsive but you couldn't look away. It sounds like the book is very well written, but I have a feeling it's not for me. I'm a sissy.

Jenny said...

Wow what a read to take on for your first of the year!! I think I might need to avoid it though because the gore and all would make me uncomfortable!

Nymeth said...

I've been meaning to read this for so long! Thank you for reminding me of why I should. It does sound very dark but then again I tend to be okay with that.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wow this sounds VERY dark! I'm with Kathy on this!

Steph said...

I've heard lots about this as a movie (namely that the English release had some very odd/inaccurate/hilarious subtitles), but never realized the movie was based on a book! I also didn't expect the material to be so grotesque, so that has certainly given me pause regarding whether I will watch the movie, bad subtitles or not!

Buried In Print said...

I think that, had I posted about reading this shortly after I had read it, my thoughts would have run along the same lines but, looking back, I don't remember the "gory bits" as much as I would have expected; it's the other stuff that has stuck.

(I thought the film was brilliantly done as well, the Swedish version, that is, and even though they had to leave out some of the complexity, I thought they managed to incorporate the subplots in a very effective, albeit limited, way; even the most minor of characters appears on screen as well, and the casting of the two mains was perfect, IMO.)

Ti said...

Your review took my breath away. My stomach was in knots while reading it. It's obvious that this book impacted you in a huge way.


Sounds like a perfect read to me. I am going to add it to my Goodreads list.

Harvee said...

I enjoyed reading your comments and summary of the book, and think I'll stop there even though I do like books that make you stop and think.

Brooke said...

I love books that question the true nature of evil - the darker the better because the topic is just so fascinating. Can't wait to pick this one up. Stunning review!

Audra said...

I've heard this is an amazing book but hadn't realized it was so disturbing/intense. I *must* read this one and soon -- I think I need to insert it into my Jan somehow... Awesome review, as usual -- you've got me so excited!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Brava! This was one of my five-star reads. I just loved it, even though I was making a face the whole way through! This is not your teenager daughter's vampire story is it?

Darlene said...

Oh my, I'm off to see if the library has this and if not I may have to buy it. It sounds like completely my kind of read.

Darlene said...

Lol- I already bought it back in March. Probably after I read Sandy's review. She's always bad for my wallet. Guess I'd better get to reading it.

Alison's Book Marks said...

Creepy little girls are a must when reading something spooky, but after reading about what poor Oskar goes through, I'm not sure I have the stomach for it. The gore doesn't bother me as much as the bullying. I'm odd, I know.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Yikes, even though you liked this so much, I'm not sure it would be for me, even if it was well-written. Chicken in my old age.

Jenners said...

Sandy put this on my radar too, and you've made it permanent. I will read this at RIP time!!!

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I saw the American adaptation starring Chloe Moretz, and I had no idea it was a book. This sounds like a fascinating read, and is a far cry from most of today's supernatural novels. I completely agreed with you when you said that the real monsters are masquerading as normal people among us.

Amy said...

I put this one on my list too but haven't gotten to it yet. I need to get around to it. Thanks for the reminder.

softdrink said...

Yikes! I think I'm too much of a scaredy-cat for this one!

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

I'm so impressed with these last 2 reviews - I have definitely been reading the wrong books - I need to have you pick me out some 5 star reads. I'm definitely picking this one up AND the language of flowers! You've made both sound so much better than the last few books I've read!

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I don't think this one would be for me. I tend to stay away from the creepy, scary books.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

Ok, you and Sandy have convinced me. I'm a bit nervous though... am I going to be physically sick as I'm reading??

Trisha said...

I do tend to like books that are described as "disturbing".

nomadreader said...

I'm intrigued by this one now! I think I'll get it for my husband, as it sounds right up his alley and let him decide if I could handle it!

Lisa said...

This is a really different book for you and not one I would normally pick up. But you do make it sound like it's worth a try.

TheBookGirl said...

From the land of the weak-kneed, I have to say I need to pass on this one. I will live vicariously through your reviews when it comes to graphic gore :)

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I am SO EXCITED that you "enjoyed" this book! (All of the awfulness of this and I could only think of the word "enjoyed!") Yes, I too, felt the grimaces and felt the knots of tension in my stomach every single time the bullies showed up and my heart just broke for Oskar every single time. And you are right about Eli's "guardian;" he certainly becomes the monster on the outside that he is on the inside, no question about it.

This is such a creepy and dark story, but such an incredible one. The translation was magnificent; it's not often translations can be so magnificent like this!

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