perjantai 17. elokuuta 2012

Autumn book club: Let the right one in.

Hi guise!!

OMG I'm going to see Lady Gaga in Helsinki this month!!! I am so excited =D I got a really good seat too, right near stage, so I should be able to see Gaga perfectly <3 I'm going to see her on Monday the 27th so only a few weeks left. Will be perfect since I'm looking to work really hard the rest of the month. I haven't been feeling particularly artistic right now, so it's gonna be inspiring to see Gaga's show. I have a couple of collages that I should finish, buuuut since I'm doing long hours at work, I don't have the energy to focus on art afterwards. Hence I thought I'd do something fun for my blog for a change.

I know there are hundreds of blogs focusing on literature and literature is very popular subject among Finnish bloggers. I believe one of our ministers keeps a literature blog which he updates regularly. My blog is a miss-match of different things I'm interested in. Well so far it has been about art, but I'm looking to talk about other stuff too.
There are times when I read books in tandem, and then there are times when I don't read anything at all. Right now I'm on one of my literary tandems, hence I thought I'd give you the 4-1-1 on 5 books I have 'recently' read.
However, there is a catch (with me, there's always a catch xP). IF I post all 5 right now, this would be seriously looooooong entry. Nothing wrong with that, but I think you, the reader, would get frustrated about how long this entry is going to go on (like reading a school book: 'OMG I have already read 30 pages and there is still 30 left on the British bread wars!'). And since it's me writing these reviews, they are going to be long.
I'm going to start with a book I read in June followed by:
The Taker by Alma Katsu
Män som hatar kvinnor (The girl with the dragon tattoo) by Stieg Larsson
Rei Shimura series (I think I'll review two of those) by Sujata Massey
and the last one is...well I haven't decided yet.

I'm looking to post The Taker next month and Lisbeth's series in October and so on...

Now, I must warn you about big time spoilers. In order to give you my honest opinion on these books, I have to assume that you have read them, or are curious to know what happens and you don't mind spoilers. If I have to avoid spoilers this would be just another plain book review. There are many things I wanna say about these books so it makes more sense if I'm allowed to assume that you have read the books. I'm going to be critizing some of the books quite 'heavily' so hopefully you are not one of those people who get offended easily --_-- You have been warned!

I'm going to start with a book that I really really liked for its capability to amalgamate fantasy in to reality. Låt den rätte komma in (Let the right one in) by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I read a few reviews on this book years before and I came really close to buying the movie (the Swedish one, duh!), but I knew that I'd read the book one day so I didn't wanna spoil the story for me. I read this book in June and what happens to me sometimes when I read a book is that I start reading it, then I get bored and leave it for a few and weeks and then finish it. Same thing happened with this book because I felt that it wasn't proceeding fast enough and that there wasn't much stuff happening. When you get past that, Låt den rätte komma in is actually very interesting story.

What I think is important to understand about this story is that it doesn't religiously follow the main character, this is more like a collection of mini stories involving people who are accidentally involved with each other. The main character is a twelve-year-old Swedish boy named Oskar. The story takes place in a suburb near Stockholm in early winter of 1981. Oskar is bullied at school, he has a problem with urination and is slightly over-weight .He lives with his mother and doen't have anyone to call a friend. So he is a typical little boy (who wasn't bullied at school, who had ''friends'' but didn't have friends?). The book takes a really interesting turn right in the beginning when Oskar is walking through a forest to find a secret place to let out all his anger. Mean while there is a man in the same forest searching for a prey. I seriously thought that Lindqvist would kill off his main character right in the beginning. My skin was crawling when the story was describing the lurker's thoughts. Håkan (the gay pedophile lurker) kills a different boy and drains his blood. It's revealed that Oskar was on his way to a different spot where he played that he'd kill his bullies by stabbing them to death (he stabs trees with a kitchen knife). So Oskar lives to fight another day, until he meets Eli. Eli is a girl living in the next apartment house (she and Oskar share a wall). At first Eli is cold and distant until she warms up to Oskar's gestures to become friends when he loans her his Rubik's cube (she shows genuine interest in the toy). Hence they start meeting every night after dusk. During the day Oskar goes to school and avoids bullies, steals knives and candy and buys stolen items from his neighbour Tommy and deals flyers on the weekends.

I found it fascinating how genuine Oskar was. Here we have a twelve-year-old boy who is severely abused and humiliated at school, yet he still manages to find small pleasures in life. I know in America people would be appaled to read about a damaged young boy who steals weapons and runs away from his father in the middle of the night, but to me, this is very realistic depiction of this child's life. Cause and consequences. Under the circumstances Oskar is, you can't expect him to be too-goody-two-shoes. I mean, kids run away from home all the time, kids steal stuff, yet none of this is barely depicted in stories anymore. Contemporary stories tend to stay tame or, on the contrary, they go way over board, to the point they become silly. This story isn't silly (well until the point when Håkan..well you'll know when you get there). It's very endearing to read about Oskar's attempts to befriend Eli. It warms my heart when the two indeed become friends and for the first time Oskar has a real friend in the world. I found it encouraging to read how Oskar slowly gains more confidence and gets over his urination problem (caused my trauma) and for the first time stands up for his tormentors.. In the beginning Oskar may seem like a young boy heading to loony town since he is obsessed with keeping a scarpbook of newspaper articles about murders. He even practices how to kill his tormentors and uses the threat of 'the ritual murderer' to steal a proper hunting knife from a store. However halfway the book it struck me that Oskar is actually pretty smart. But you'll have to have read the book to see for yourself.

While Oskar's and Eli's friendship deepens (Lindqvist doesn't rush the process), we move on to follow the gay pedophile Håkan. It doesn't take a genious to realize that Håkan is involved with Eli and kills young ones (not too young!) to supply Eli with human blood. Later in the story we learn that Håkan was an elementary school teacher who liked young boys. He wasn't involved with anyone from his school, but a collection of child pornography was found in his possession, so the school fired him and somebody burned down his house. Eli found him when he was literally at the bottom of his life. He is in love with Eli, but remains passive, even gentleman-ish, towards her, who refrains from all sexual intercourse with him. He deeply longs to touch and feel his loved one, who time after time denies this pleasure from him, still he feels deep attachment to Eli. After killing his second victim (the one in the woods) he goes to a library in Stockholm and purchases oral sex from a ten year old immigrant. What really struck me was when Håkan notices that the boy doesn't have teeth =( He assumes that they have been removed to make the oral task easier (more pleasurable for the receiver?) so he gives the boy a fast sum of money to get new teeth. Everyone probably assumes that Håkan is the villain of this story, but the way I see it, he is the anti-hero. I am strongly against pedophilism and do not agree what Håkan does in the story, but Lindqvist writes so accurately about Håkan's regret and conflict that one can't help, but pity and like him at the same time. He is a diamond in the rough, a person who has been making wrong decisions all his life. His innocent obsession with Eli is rather endearing and it's rather amazing to see him respected her wishes not to have intercourse, even though he is clearly aching for her. Lindqvist is really good at telling about Håkan's conflict without going overboard. With small gestures he tells how greatly bothered Håkan is by the murders he had to commit to keep his loved one alive. Still Lindqvist doesn't tell this via fancy words nor drag the sentence on and on by throwing in various figurative expressions. I don't shy away from extreme characters, and you have to admit it, when was the last time you saw a gay pedophile in a story? It's fresh and it's obscene, and it's so Scandinavian. Hello from North Europe, we bring you a collection of extreme characters who are as much extreme as they are realistic. I think it was nice of Håkan to give that young boy money to get his teeth fixed. Yes he is a criminal, but Lindqvist has build this character so well and accurately that I can see a real person there. He has major unforgivable flaws, but there is also goodness in him. Not that I think it's right of him to purchase oral sex from little boys to begin with. However it is a bit annoying when Håkan mopes about his eternal love for Eli and the things he has to do for her, while she has no respect for him what so ever. He is just a food provider to her (personally I think she's a dick). At least he gets to feel like he is the luckiest man on earth to have been chosen by such an angel (and there might also be a promise of eternal life).

Håkan's lifes takes a drastic turn when Eli sends him for his last mission (after she screwed up badly and killed a local drunk Lacke ← this is actually a really sad story). Håkan says that he will get her blood one more time, under the condition that he may hold her and touch her after the deed is done. So he goes to a local swimming pool (indoors) and rents a booth to himself, where he makes a mess in his booth when he sees young boys (I guess he is easily stimulated). He manages to capture and 'drug' a boy (he uses some sort of helium tank to make the victim unconscious and then drains them dry) and proceeds to drain him. (regarding this practice there is a wonderful little conversation in the beginning of the story between Tommy and his friends. They hang out at their building's air-raid shelter and discuss how pigs are slaughtered. One of them says that the pigs are hung upside down and drained from their blood while they are conscious). The boy wakes up and makes a ruckus. Before men can burst in to Håkan's booth, he takes a jam jar and pours the acid inside all over his face. His last thoughts are rather moving, he imagines that Eli, angel boy Eli, comes to take him away, and then he pours the acid whilst yelling 'Eli, Eli'.

Mean while Eli has been making a mess of her own. Håkan has dissapeared and she needs blood. She is strong enough to move on her own, but she needs more blood. Hence before she sent Håkan to his last mission, she killed a local drunk Lacke who spend his evenings and nights in a local Chinese restaurant. Now we meet people who may not seem as important to the story's development, but we'll get there. I'm guessing this group of bums is Lindqvist's way of showing how much damage a single parson can do to others. And that every single person has a life and plans of their own, that we shouldn't look down on people no matter what their social status is. At first I was confused to be reading about these local bums who spend their days drinking at a local pub/restaurant with no plans for the future nor ambition (they reminded me too much of the local 'drunks/bums' we have at work). But then Lindqvist gives us Lacke, a man who may be a bum, but still has some drive in him to go traveling and maybe meet someone and settle down. It actually opened my eyes a little since I reckon some of the bums at our restaurant are just spinless, boring people with no credibility. But Lindqvist reminded me that just like Lacke, those bums have plans, things they wanna do and see (but I don't get it why they wanna spend their time at out restaurant EVERYDAY, literally everyday from 10am or 3pm until 10pm). So it's very sad to read when Eli attacks Lacke and kills him. The others are left to grieve for his dissapearance (Håkan dumps the body in a nearby lake), however someone saw Eli attack Lacke. Gösta is a...uummm local loony, cocooned in his apartment with dozens of cats. The others know him and visit him every now and then. So the gang goes to visit him and Gösta tells them what he saw. Lacke's bestfriend Jocke (yeah...I know) is devastated and in his grief insults badly his old (and current) flame Virginia. She rushes out and is far ahead before Jocke rushes after her. He is just in time to see Eli attack Virginia, but Eli is unable to kill her, so Virginia is left wounded. Note that Gösta and Jocke only see a child attack Lacke and Virginia. They don't know Eli.

At this point it would be appropriate to tell you that Eli is a vampire (chuckle). Virginia is infected and begins to turn into a vampire. The story follows her struggles which is rather interesting since she has no idea that she is turning into a vampire. Reading about her ordeal was actually really touching. She was the innocent one. She just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and now she is left to pay for it. Hence it should be clear by now that Lindqvist wanted to make everyone of his characters victims. It's up to you to decide whether they are all victims of Eli or of their own life style (I personally like to think that they are all victims of Eli). In the end Virginia ends up in a hospital and commits suicide (she asks the nurse to open the drapes). Jocke is once again left devastated and if not earlier, this is where you should realize how realistic this story actually is. It's not a story about silly vampires and monsters, it's a story about people with real-life plans and thoughts. This is especially visible in Jocke's gang because they aren't Hollywood-good-looking people with fast sums of money and a few thoughts on life. They are regular people who have very ordinary lives, who seek small pleasures that they can find in their enviroment and pass yet another ordinary day. You won't find 'a thing' happening in these places, no catastrophe or monster lurking in the woods. It's plain everyday life. People go to work, they come home (or our restaurant xP) and do the same thing tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and so on. However, in this case Eli delivers a massive blow to their everyday life by taking Lacke's life and, in a way, Virginia's life. Jocke has been planning to move to the country side, and have two cabins build, one for him and one for Virginia. He came to a conclusion that they could never be a couple in traditional sense, but they both enjoy each others company and like each other enough to stay 'together'. And once again I'm saddened by the fact that they loose another member of their 'gang'. It's very Scandinavian of Lindqvist to remind us that life is fleeting, and anything can end it sooner than it began. The presence of death is a very popular subject in Scandinavian works. I don't know why, so please don't ask me. (maybe it's the melancholy factor?).

Eli has been very busy when she finally founds Håkan in a hospital. He is very much alive but badly disfigured, hence he has been able to conceal Eli from the authorities. Håkan asks Eli to end his life, but right before Eli can finish the task, someone comes in forcing her to stop so she leaves. Håkan leaps of the open window, killing himself in the process. Naaah I'm just kidding, he doesn't die, instead he later turns into a middless vampire who is fueled by his obsession with Eli. Bad people always get what's coming to them. Oh the irony!

Back to Oskar. He has already began to fall in love with Eli, when he discovers that she is a vampire, and the man he once saw was 'the ritual murderer' who supplies Eli with blood. PLOT TWIST. Eli explains that she is not in fact a girl, but a boy named Elias and he was castrated during his turning ritual. He wears girl's clothes to disguise himself. Oskar bolts, but later decides to stick with the only friend he has ever had.

Eli, 'shunned' by Oskar, goes to the air-raid shelter and meets Håkan by chance. Håkan in his insane tantrum hurls himself at Eli and tries to force sexual intercourse on him. Eli fights Håkan off and managed to lock him in a..basement? Another room in the air-raid shelter? Eli leaves and we learn that Tommy is now locked in the room with the senseless Håkan. Håkan is later killed by Tommy in rather traumatizing way (Tommy slowly beats Håkan to a bloody pulp, literally).

Back to Oskar. He is now convinced that he wants to remain friends with Eli, even though Elias is a boy and a vampire. He sneeks in to Eli's apartment and finds him sleeping in a bath tub filled with blood. Oskar goes to sleep on the sofa. Later Jocke walks in and attempts to kills Eli. But Oskar wakes Eli up and Eli kills Jocke. I'm now feeling very passive-agressive about this. Here we have a ten-year-old wee monster boy who totally fucked up 3 people's lives. Not to mention the other three who are now left grieving for their lost friends. Eli has no idea what he has done. Although he is becoming a little more thoughtful because for the first time Eli goes to buy blood. Before Håkan caught him, he bought and drank little bit of Tommy's blood. So we can assume that Eli is trying to make an effort not to kill for food anymore (that's how we vegetarians feel. Why are there so few of us still?). Still to me Eli is really uninspired and impersonal character. Actually I find him the most boring character in the book. I groaned a little when ever the story followed Eli. It's clear that he is emotionally and personally constipated character who finds loneliness oh-so-killing. Really --_-- there isn't a single vampire/monster in stories who isn't tormented by loneliness (well except Mr. Hyde). And somehow some of the other writers are able to get past that little quirk, giving us interesting vampires. Buuuut.... Lindqvist kinda dropped the ball with Elias. He is not interesting because he has no personality! Sure it's endearing to watch Eli and Oskar become friends, and it's even more endearing and heart warming since Oskar had no friends before. But it doesn't change the fact that Elias is an impersonal monster and nothing more. Although it is releaving to see Oskar make true friends with somebody at last.

Oskar has been 'training' to stand up for his bullies and his friendship with Eli gives him new courage to finally fight back. He manages to really hurt the worst bully and accidentally sends their classroom on fire (Oskar sneaks in to the school one night and burns the bullies' desks plus half the classroom by accident). The next day Oskar goes to the school in the evening to workout with his gym teacher and fellow students. The bullies sneek in and knock down the teacher. They proceed to burn and drown Oskar in the swimming pool (indoors). While the other kids watch Oskar is nearly killed BUT LUCKILY Eli bursts in, rips the bullies' heads clean off and takes Oskar with him. One the last page, Oskar is travelling (I forgot where he's going) with Eli's stuff and money and we get a hint that Eli is waiting for him at his destination.

Although it may seem that Lindqvist is dragging the story and the stuff that happen don't really mean a thing, they really are building towards a bigger conclusion. I know, I know it can get frustrating to read about characters like Tommy's future stepfather (it's funny, after killing Håkan Tommy probably turned religious like his mother and future stepfather me thinks ;D), but believe me when I say that Lindqvist makes interesting story structure and..umm inner dialogue. The characters think a lot, but fear not, Lindqvist's style makes it an interesting read. However what I really liked about this story was its sense of reality. When I told my BFF about this book he immediately dissed it because it didn't seem to make any sense to him at all. Perhaps the monster Håkan isn't that realistic, but when Oskar tries to befriend Eli, or when he is thinking to himself that he can't afford new winter shoes this year either, it's these bits that make the story so realistic. Plus I really really like the setting, that the story is based in Sweden and not some place else (ALTHOUGH it is such a cliche of the writer to situate the story in his/her home country) Like I said before, all the people in the book get more or less involved with each other. It's quite fascinating to read how their lives become entangled. 
I know that Lindqvist is trying to build this idea of every character in the book being a victim, but I am more interested in how the character influence each other's lives.

As far as vampire books go, this is the best one I have read. And you should know that I have read MANY, repeat, MANY vampire books. Låt den rätte komma in (Let the right one in) doesn't scream 'vampire', which may dissapoint some people, but come on, how many actually good vampire books have you read? Come at me bro, how many!!??
This story is daunting, it's thrilling even scary at times, plus you can't denye the fact that every single character in the story could exist in real life (even Elias if you choose to believe in vampires). All in all I was not dissapointed with this story. Lindqvist's writing style is interesting and he doesn't do the 'say it figuratively' thing that has taken hold of many writers *caugh* (British house mom with SM fantasies) *caugh*. In fact I think you'll find that Lindqvist's style differs from anything you have ever read before. That have been said, I really enjoyed this book and I'll most likely read it again.

Hope you enjoyed my review on Låt den rätte komma in and stay tuned for the artist of the month.

Cheers and byes!


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