12-year-old Oskar is picked on at school. A lot. Every day. By the sort of boys that would have driven me to stay home with a "stomachache" every day until I was 18. He fantasizes about his revenge, stabbing trees near his dismal suburban apartment complex.
And then he meets Eli. Mysterious, dark, strange, beautiful Eli. Eli, who loves puzzles and delights in Oskar's gift of the Morse code. Eli, who lives next door with a strange older man. Eli, who is never out during the day, and who needs an invitation to come in.
Eli changes Oskar's life. For awhile, I really wasn't sure if it was going to be for the better or the worse. It wasn't until the very last few pages when I made up my mind. You'll have to see what you think.
First, this is a translation so I feel like maybe the writing could have been a bit richer. It felt a bit flat at time -- but this only emphasized the hopelessness and despair of this Swedish suburban experience. There was no beauty -- except Eli.
As you probably know, I lived in Finland for a year and I felt like this strange confluence of skinny forest trees and modern, lifeless apartment buildings was spot-on for a tale of growing horror. You don't have to have lived in Scandinavia to know about the drunks and the ice and the darkness, but the author (who is Swedish) got it just right.
So what happens? Well, Oskar falls in love with Eli. Eli (we think) loves Oskar. The old man loves Eli. Various drunks love each other. So, in one sense, it's a romance novel.
However, Oskar lives a life in early-adolescent hell. Eli is doomed to an eternity of loneliness. The old man becomes a pseudo-living nightmare. So it's not a very nice romance.
The horror, when it comes, close to the end, is truly horrifying. I was reading this late, late, late at night at a babysitting gig. Not the best book to be reading when I was in a strange house, alone late at night. However -- PEOPLE! -- I got scared! I was actually creeped out. I thought I was too jaded but apparently just needed the right book. I was so pleased.
It was quite long, with a slow build, but I enjoyed it. Oskar is one of those tough characters that you're not sure whether or not to sympathize with. Eli was an enigma, but ultimately I couldn't help but love the character a little myself. Certainly not sweet, but poignant and achingly lonely.
It was different than I had expected but I thought it was a really great story and very appropriate for this time of year. And RIP!
Scary? Yes. Vampire? Yes -- a different kind of vampire book. More along the lines of 'salem's Lot than Sookie Stackhouse. Interesting? Completely. Complex? Moreso than most horror novels. Worthy of your time? Absolutely, if you like a good scary book that's actually worth reading.
I can't wait to see the movie now. The trailer is chilling.
And now for a whole string of short children's ghost stories to finish off RIP.