Thursday, September 17, 2009

BBAW: Discovered on Another Book Blog

Today we encourage you to blog about a book you read only because you discovered it on another book blog. Preferably, this will be a book you loved! You might also write a bit about the blog you discovered it on!

Book: Let the Right One In
By John Ajvide Lindqvist

Blogger: Lu of Regular Rumination
Her Review

A thought wanted to get out. Something. A context. He didn't catch hold of it. But then that other thought came out, the terrible, frightening one. That Eli was just pretending. That there was an ancient person inside of her, watching him, who knew everything, and was smiling at him, smiling in secret.

I've been having a bit of a vampire theme going on This Book and I Could Be Friends lately. It began when I read Dracula and wrote this essay in response. It was kind of rambling, but I discussed what I think the modern vampire (dating back to the nineteenth century) represents in the cultural imagination and how they compare to the modern (George Romero) zombie in that respect. In response to a very insightful comment left by Emily of Evening All Afternoon, I did a brief follow-up a couple days later. I then reviewed Eugene Woodbury's Angel Falling Softly.

I like vampires. I have made my Anne Rice fanship known. I've also blogged about Kohta Hirano's Hellsing anime/manga series, as well as Elizabeth Kostova's well-written, well-researched novel The Historian. I've argued that being a beautiful woman who kicks ass doesn't automatically make Anita Blake a Mary Sue. I have trashed that poorly-written, vampire-ruining, anti-feminist, pro-Mary Sue crap Twilight on numerous occasions. No, I can't leave it alone. I refuse to sit by while sparkly teenybopper vampire high school students are on the loose! IN THE SUNSHINE????

So needless, to say, it totally caught my attention when Lu of Regular Rumination specifically stated that John Ajvide Lindqvist's Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma) contains vampires that do not sparkle. It also has zombies, she added, plus it is scary and Swedish. Translated fiction is a major part of This Book and I Could Be Friends; it is interest I share with both Lu and Richard of Caravana de recuerdos, both of whom I met through the 2666 read-along hosted by Claire and Steph. Lu and Richard can actually read Spanish books in their original language (Lu has a BA in Spanish, largely due to her love of Spanish literature), a skill which, alas, I am lacking. Even in English, though, Lu's reading tastes are actually quite similar to mine and I enjoy her posts about graphic novels, poetry, and literary fiction. (Regular Rumination is also where I found the "Books Read in 2009" meme.) Anyway: great blogs all around, check'em out.

(Both Richard and Frances of Nonsuch Book, another 2666 reader, have been shortlisted for the Best Writing Category. Good luck guys!)

So obviously, via Lu's review, I was warned beforehand that Let the Right One In was extremely creepy and best read during the daytime. I actually disagree somewhat - it wasn't really scary in the suspenseful, what-was-that-noise sense. It was shocking, disturbing, and gruesome. In my post-Dracula vampire essay I brought up how the modern vampire often acts as a sort of dark wish fulfillment fantasy. They are beautiful, wealthy, and cultured, but ultimately represent the temptation of evil and a form of corruption. Bram Stoker's Dracula and Anne Rice's creations exemplify this. ("Darkness. No grace," says Rice, on the Interview with the Vampire movie. "No salvation. The film got it. It got 'the glamor of evil' and that darkness, that hopelessness, that despair.") Twilight and its ilk, however, have watered down this moral gray area in favor of a simplistic "bad boy/femme fatale" portrayal. But either way, whether you're reading Anne Rice or the latest YA fantasy, the vampire is always going to be a highly alluring creature.

What I loved about Let the Right One In was how completely Lindqvist subverted this current pop cultural norm.

One vampire is a grubby little girl who with the scent of sickness: "it was [close] to the smell that came when you removed the bandage from an infected wound." Another is hideously mutilated middle-aged child molester, and another is a 50-year-old alcoholic burnout whose condition causes intense physical torment. In other words: definitely not The Vampire Diaries territory. Like Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, Let the Right One In also closely links vampires to zombies as undead monsters. Even more so than Bram Stoker, Lindqvist makes it abundantly clear that to become a vampire is to suffer a horrific, and never-ending, fate.

But whereas Dracula still had his seductive, aristocratic side, there is absolutely nothing remotely attractive (sexually, aesthetically, culturally, etc) about the Lindqvist vampire. Like his predecessors of the genre, Lindqvist uses the vampire as a metaphor for, and commentary on, the human condition. As Lu noted, Let the Right One In is not simply a vampire story - there are also themes of love, sacrifice, broken families, social class, bullying, and alcohol/drug abuse. The biggest motif is one of disease - in the body, in relationships, in society. Lindqvist's vampires personify this. The atmosphere is bleak, hopeless, run-down. The characters live in bland apartments reminiscent of American housing projects, and even the humans hurt themselves and each other in a variety of ways. As one man reflects:
"I don't want to be here anymore!"

[. . .] "You don't have to. Not for my. . ."

"No, not that. Here. The whole shebang. Blackeberg. Everything. These buildings, the walking paths, the spaces, people, everything is just . . . like a big damn sickness, see? Something went wrong. They thought it all out, planned it to be . . . perfect, you know. And in some damn wrinkle it went wrong, instead. Some shit.

"Like . . . I can't explain it . . . like they had some idea about the angles, or fucking whatever, the angles of the building, in their relationship to each other, you know. So it would be harmonious or something. And then they made a mistake in their measurements, their triangulations, whatever the hell they call it, so that it was a little off from the start, and it went downhill from there. So you walk here with all these buildings and you just feel that. . . No, no, no. You shouldn't be here. This place is all wrong, you know?

"Except it isn't the angles, it's something else, something that just . . . like a disease that's in the . . . walls and I . . . don't want any part of it anymore."
In the very first chapter, Blackeberg is described as a brand-new post-WWII suburb with absolutely no past. The children do not learn about their town's history in school because there is no history. Blackeberg was maybe meant to be a refuge of sorts, from the recent war, the recent depression, a look to the bright future. But human nature does not change. The arrival of Eli, 200-year-old waif, is essentially the catalyst for a chain of events that forces Blackeberg's citizens to finally confront evil - even though it already exists among them, self-inflicted, in one form or another. People will react to a brutal murder, but not to the repeated and brutal bullying of Oskar that's been going on for years.

The sole attraction of Lindqvist vampires, debased as they are, is simply evil itself: the ability to do great harm and get away with it. You can say this of many modern vampires, but Lindqvist is unique in that he never tries to sugarcoat it and make it "glamorous."

Let the Right One In is unlike ANY vampire novel I have ever read. Many vampire authors attempt a new spin on a well-known myth, but Lindqvist actually pulls it off. But please be advised that this book is very dark and very graphic - I was even forced to skim a few pages because it got to be too much. But it is still an awesome read and I would like to thank Lu for introducing it to me! This is why I read book blogs: to discover new books I likely wouldn't have heard about otherwise, ESPECIALLY international/translated literature.

(Also: please check out this review I did for an Austrian post-apocalyptic novel by Thomas Glavinic called Night Work. It was personally recommended to me by Larry. Thanks Larry!)


Caitlin said...

Okay, this just went on my TBR list. I have a huge prejudice against all these prissy modern vampires who go out in the daytime & moon over high school girls while reciting dreadful poetry. Firstly, nobody would go back to high school voluntarily. Secondly, vampires should not be wandering about in the daytime. Vampires should be predators - pure & simple.

Great review!

E. L. Fay said...

Yes! Another soul who feels the way I do!

Something I've been wondering: why high school? If you need to blend in that badly, why not college? I loved college!

Mrs. C said...

I think this one will NOT go on my TBR list...not for a while, at least. My need for dark is being justly met through Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL series (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, and a third coming into translation soon)--have you sampled him yet? Really good stuff and brutal.

I have you to thank for this reading-in-translation jag I've been on, and it has introduced me to lit from regions of Europe I had little read previously.

Emily said...

"The sole attraction of Lindqvist vampires, debased as they are, is simply evil itself: the ability to do great harm and get away with it."

I just started Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and I'm starting to think that an un-sugarcoated Old West has this in common with an un-sugarcoated vampire novel - an interesting connection that would never have occurred to me. My main impressions so far are of a certain harsh freedom, and a never-ending dread.

Anyway, thanks for the great review! That detail of the smell like removing a bandage from an infected wound is very effectively creepy, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you liked it! This is an extremely thoughtful review. I agree with everything you Thanks for the shoutouts!

Anonymous said...

Have you read Octavia Butler's Fledgling? That's a bit of a different spin on vampires, too.

I'm going to read Dracula (for the first time) next month, so I'm bookmarking your most excellent Dracula essay for another read right before I start.

E. L. Fay said...

Mrs. C! Glad to hear back from you! How have you been?

Emily - That's an interesting thought, about vampires and the old West. Maybe you can say that about fiction in general - that exciting or heart-stopping things are often quite scary in real life, so they must be made more palatable for entertaining fiction.

RR: Thank YOU for introducing me to this book!

Softdrink: I've heard of that one. I've actually been wanting to read The Parable of the Sower. I don't know . . . the idea of vampires as simply another species instead of as reanimated corpses kind of ruins it for me. I'll read Sower first and see how much I like it.

Richard said...

Hi E.L. Fay,

First, Happy Birthday to your fine blog! Second, thanks for the interesting review and the shout-out!! I've wanted to read Let the Right One In ever since seeing the overrated but intermittently kind of cool movie a while back, but your post has just bumped it up several spots on my mental TBR wish list (it has yet to enter into my actual clutches). I imagine that the cheesy special effects that sort of ruined the flick for me will be lacking in the novel, and the grim, "realistic" elements you dwell on here were a large part of what I liked about the film.

E. L. Fay said...

Aaaah! I don't think I WANT to see the movie - the book was graphic enough!

Caitlin said...

I bought this one this weekend from Can't wait!

& yes, college would be a much better choice if you just had to return to something, although still.

Did you see Being Human on the BBC? Great short series about a vampire, a werewolf, & a ghost who are all housemates. The vampires in that show all had really everyday jobs - cop, hospital porter, behind the counter at the comissary - seemed a lot more real somewhow, although if I as doomed to forever being employed I might just pass. =]

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