John Ajvide Lindqvist’s cold Swedish ‘vampire novel’ was fascinating. It dealt with Oskar who lives in Blackeberg, an outer suburb of Stockholm and is being bullied at school. Oskar meets Eli who intrigues him and eventually gives him the confidence to tackle the bullies head on. There is more to Eli than meets the eye however; he can only meet her at night….
While it can be called a vampire novel, it is much more about those awful dormitory suburbs outside of any major city and the soul destroying life that some people have to live in these places. A group of alcoholics cross paths with Eli with distastrous results and their relationships are described in a very believable way by the author. The gore is almost a sideshow to the relationships in this book.
When we first meet Eli she is living with Hakan who Oskar assumes is her father. Hakan is much more of a parasite than Eli is in a lot of ways, but he is a victim too as he kills and drains people for Eli because of his need for him/her. The reader is made very uncomfortable by this relationship, but again Lindqvist has not shied away from difficult ideas here.
Eli and Oskar eventually have a neat closed off ending, but it is not as Hollywood as it could have been due to the bleak setting and the reality of the situation that Eli and Oskar are both in. Oskar accepts Eli for who she/he is, and she does the same to him. We see Eli as a sympathetic creature who is aware only too clearly of what she is and who is drawn to her, but accepts this nature. She tells Oscar that he cannot help being who he is too.
This book deals with the whole idea of vampires in a new way with some old touches. Eli has to be invited in to a house before she/he can attack any victim, and the vampires must stay out of the sunlight, but they fit right in with some of the outcasts who are pushed to the outer suburbs because that is the only place they can afford to live. The crimes committed are less likely to cause the sort of hue and cry they would if they were in the more affluent areas and a portion of the population is transient. The bleak feel of the estate in which Oskar and Eli live as well as the school where Oskar is cruelly bullied add to the general creepiness of this modern horror story.