Let the Right One In is one of those rare books that works so well that it transcends genres. Every author wishes that of their book, to write a story that appeals beyond its target audience. If that’s what you’re after, this is a brilliant example of how writing a piece of solid genre fiction is the best way to broaden its appeal.
Trying to transcend genres is a dangerous game for a writer. I used to submit my fiction to agents and publishers under the banner of literary fiction. Like some kind of arsehole, I announced the unique character-depth and quirky twists in my tales could not be pigeon-holed. Not wanting to submit to one genre achieved one thing: no one wanted to read it. Let the Right One In fits its genre perfectly, and, quite the opposite of my abortive efforts, has instant appeal because of it.
Before anyone wants to explore the layers of your story, the story itself has to appeal. To appeal, a story needs to give the audience what it wants. Let the Right One In is a horror story. There’s no two ways about it, it’s acutely placed in the horror genre, with an overarching sense of menace and the grotesque (just flick to any of Hakan’s scenes and that’s unquestionable horror). It has a set audience already, and it will satisfy them perfectly.
Lindqvist said that vampires were the area of horror that least interested him. With the overpopulated meandering pap of vampire fiction that’s seeped into popular culture it’s easy to see why. He restores order by presenting a 12-year-old vampire as unwashed and lonely, a maladjusted wretch. Simply, he makes vampires nasty. And the nightmare of what unfolds in this story is extreme, the gore vicious and threatening. Before all else, he fulfils the horror genre as a piece of entertainment.
Strip away the horror elements, though, and it’s a story about loners finding companionship. Not just the vampire child and Oskar, but every one of the strong cast struggles with loneliness. And the way they each deal with it is relatable. Some hide away, some turn to intoxicants, some dream of getting away, some find a way to connect with those around them. The important thing is that their emotions feel real. Alongside the unfolding horror story, the characters are consistent, they take journeys with their feelings.
The location of Blackeburg is also a living object, a miserable place that seems to suck light away. It’s an honest depiction – Lindqvist grew up there, and you can’t help but feel he writes about real experiences. The kind of depth this gives opens the story up to interpretation limited only by the reader’s imagination. When the characters and setting feel real, then the reader can fill in gaps themselves.
You could come away from Let the Right One In now, after it has achieved widespread popularity and fame, and be forgiven for thinking it is a story about a lonely society that happens to have horror elements on the side. It’s not though: the main goal was always to have a good horror story – putting original frightening elements in a well-trodden field. He was not trying to write a horror story that was also a tragic drama or a social commentary or an exploration of innocence and romance. Those aspects come out because he gives the horror such a good grounding in reality.
Lest you don’t believe me, here’s a quote from the author:
When I finally tried writing this genre, it was the first time that I was writing and discovered, ‘Good lord – this is EASY! I can do this. I know what’s going to happen next.’ It’s just about writing the story as effectively as possible. Not worry about the language or that it’s supposed to be literature. I’ll just try to throw in a story that’s as exciting as possible, and heartbreaking, and do it to the best of my ability.
If you haven’t read it, buy it, read it, and soak up that genre perfection.
Let the Right One In has now been made as two major feature films, in Sweden and America. It was my love of the Swedish film that made me want to read the book in the first place (as I’m sure is true for many). It’s interesting to note that the films focuses more on the relationship between Eli and Oskar than anything else, and you could be forgiven for thinking they’re not the most gruesome or vicious of horror films. The novel has a far stronger horror element, and does the genre much more justice. If you’ve seen the film and haven’t read the book, you should do so just to see the purer horror origins of the story.