John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In (Thomas Dunne Books, 2004)
Let the Right One In was hands-down the best movie of 2008, and in my estimation, one of the greatest achievements in film to date; it followed that I'd have to read the book eventually. It took me a while to get there, but I just finished it, and I find myself having to look at the two as entirely separate works. In hindsight, the film is reductionist almost to the point of absurdity (while still being brilliant); so much of the book is trimmed away that I even find myself being slightly optimistic about the American remake slated to come out two days from now as I write this. It's obvious Lindqvist (who wrote both adaptations) left a whole lot of material that was still ripe for mining in his 2008 screenplay. Hopefully he dug into it for the 2010 version.
The movie is a simple coming-of-age love story. The book is that, but it is also a straight vampire novel in many ways the movie is not; it is far more Stephen King than Stephenie Meyer (and hooray for that indeed). As well as focusing on the Oskar-and-Eli storyline familiar to those who have seen the film (and if you haven't seen the film, you should immediately), there are a number of others. We get a lot more insight into Oskar's personality; we see a lot more of him being bullied (which makes the climactic scene in both book and film a lot more solid), we see an aborted weekend with his divorced father. And then there's Eli. Almost, but not quite, a completely different character. A lot more savage than portrayed in the film, and... different. (I can't tell you how without major spoilers, just trust me on this.) As well, there are two other major subplots. The group of alcoholics who meet at the Chinese restaurant, who pop up in the film now and again but never really qualify as major characters, are very much that here; they get as much screen time as do Oskar and Eli, especially Lacke and Virginia, whose old, doomed romance is such a wonderful parallel to Oskar and Eli's young, doomed romance. And then there is Tommy, who lives in the building on the other side of Oskar from Eli. Tommy doesn't appear at all in the movie (I just had to check IMDB to make sure, and his character is entirely erased). His mother is dating one of the police officers who's investigating the recent murders in the area, and aside from being a friend/mentor figure to Oskar, he plays a very pivotal role in a section of the book that was excised from the film.
As a completely different piece of art, I could rate it differently than the film, but I chose not to; this is quite possibly the best piece of vampire literature to come down the pike since 'Salem's Lot, and may in fact be better even than that. Where the movie chose to focus on the tenderness, the book encompasses that tenderness in a sort of inevitable brutality (of which we got only the tip of the iceberg in the movie's climax, and that mostly offstage). That's a very delicate balance, and Lindqvist plays it like a Stradivarius. It's obviously a bit early to call this a classic, but if there's been a better vampire novel in the past thirty years, I can't think of it. *****