You could be forgiven some eye-rolling if you read a brief synopsis of Let The Right One In and think: “a human/vampire love story? Well, that’s been done to death”.
Yet John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel—first published in Sweden in 2004 and in the UK in 2007—is a searing, complex and compassionate story that completely reinvents the genre. Set in the 1980s on a run-down suburban sink estate in Sweden, Oskar is a lonely, bullied 13-year-old who one day meets Eli, a girl about his age who recently moved into the apartment complex, whom he soon realises is a vampire that has been killing residents in town.
The two leads could not be further from the glamorous human/vampire couples of other books in the genre like Twilight’s Bella and Edward. Oskar is pudgy, sullen, a serial shoplifter and binge eater who still wets his trousers. Meanwhile, Eli is bedraggled, smells of death and corruption and is often caked in blood because she has to feed every day.
Lindqvist’s writing is spare, creepy and disturbing. He shows both sides of Eli, a monster (when she kills she does so messily, ripping open necks, then snapping the heads of her victims so they don’t also become vampires), yet someone who is ultimately driven by a very human need to escape her own aching loneliness, which matches Oskar’s. Their relationship is one of the most unconventional in literature; yet it is beautiful and utterly believable.