Book Club Questions: Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (tr. Ebba Segerberg)

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….

My friend and I picked this book because we thought it would be a good chance to discuss vampire fiction, and because a friend of ours had already read it and gave it a high recommendation. After reading Dune, we were hoping for a book that both of us would have a great time reading – and we were not at all disappointed! Let The Right One In is an especially wonderful read if you are looking for contemporary vampire fiction in a very dark Nordic style, with plenty of horror moments. It’s definitely a page turner, but in a way that sneaks up on you.

Discussion questions below the cut!

Consider the novel’s title. What is the difference between the American movie’s title Let Me In and the original Let The Right One In? How would each title impact your expectation from or interpretation of the novel?

Nordic detective novels have become their own subdivision of the mystery genre, characterized by a certain bleakness in outlook and sparseness in style. Do you feel this book also fits with what we’ve come to expect  from Nordic genre fiction?

Gothic fiction is characterized by exploring that which is forbidden, the desires and fears associated with the forbidden, and, as a result, the conflict between the individual and society. Vampires form a major part of the Gothic tradition, with Bram Stoker’s Dracula featuring in particular. What are ways in which Let The Right One In could also fit within the Gothic tradition? Does it feel odd to try to describe a modern book as Gothic? If so, why do you think that is?

Note: Specific Gothic tropes to consider include doubles (both direct and indirect), the monstrous other (think Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster), and the dangerous lover (think Wuthering Heights – the dangerous lover typically “shares a soul” with our protagonist, and any approach towards consummating their love also means approaching self-destruction).

As Blackeberg is introduced in the very beginning of the book, the narration states, “You were beyond the grasp of the mysteries of the past; there wasn’t even a church. Nine thousand inhabitants and no church. That tells you something about the modernity of the place, its rationality. It tells you something of how free they were from the ghosts of history and terror. It explains in part how unprepared they were.” Suburbia is often described as having “no soul” or not being a “real place.” Do you think ghosts are necessary in order for a place to have a soul, to be real? Consider both man-made and natural locations in your answer.

While talking to Gõsta, Lacke describes Blackeberg saying, “Everything. These buildings, the walking paths, the spaces, people, everything is just… like a single big damn sickness, see? Something went wrong. They thought all this out, planned it to be… perfect, you know. And in some damn wrinkle it went wrong, instead.” Given the lack of likeable characters in this book and its general plot, this description of Blackeberg seems like it could expand to encompass the entire story Lindqvist is trying to tell. How does Lindqvist create a sense of “something wrong” with that which you expect to be right? Can you point to anything in particular?

When Oskar’s bullying is first demonstrated, we are told, “… the real problem was simply that he existed, and every reminder of his existence was a crime.” Later in the book as Oskar becomes closer to Eli, he begins to think to himself, at various times, “I don’t exist.” Do you think Oskar’s journey in this novel truly moves him from existence to non-existence?

Håkan essentially disintegrates over the course of the novel, both in body and consciousness, until pretty much the only thing left is his sexual desire for Eli – stripping him down to his monstrousness, you might say. What elements of Håkan make an effective monster? Compare him to Eli’s monstrous elements. Where do they differ? What features do they share? Which did you find more frightening while reading, and why?

In most books, we follow only protagonists – people whose action directly propels the story forward. How does this book differ? Why do you think Lindqvist is telling his story in this way? What effect does it have on you as the reader?

Note: In your answer, you might also consider how the hospital janitor Benke at one point thinks “there was something in him that was actually hoping that… that the bleeding had continued, that he would have to call the ER, that there would be a hoopla. However much he wanted to go home and sleep. Because it would make a better story, that’s why.”

Not just one but two movies have been made of this novel. Having read it, do you feel like film would be an effective medium to capture this story? Why or why not?

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