Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: Carmilla

CARMILLA: The first successful vampire story

I discovered Sheridan Le Fanu when I bought an anthology of classic horror fiction. For I was impressed with his work, I decided to look for his other stories -- and so I happened to find Carmilla.

Carmilla tells the story of Laura, a young woman living in an isolated castle in the middle of a large expanse of trees. Soon enough, peculiar events start to happen after her family gives temporary shelter to a young woman named Carmilla.

The story starts by establishing the setting. I must admit that the gothic writing style of Sheridan Le Fanu gives the exposition a dark and mysterious atmosphere -- and that is good, considering that it is a vampire story. Even though the story is rather slow, the gothic feel of the beginnings of the book makes up for it. Le Fanu’s imagery is so peculiarly good in portraying the mysterious air of the setting that I couldn’t help but enjoy the experience. This slow pacing doesn’t last long, however, for the story jumpstarts to a narration of a supernatural event that has happened in the protagonist’s past. This flashback proves to be relevant in the overall scheme of things, for I learn in the following chapters that it is related to the subject of the novella’s horror -- the vampire.

In this gothic novella, the vampire is presented not as a hideous hunter in the night, but as a beautiful young lady that is easily welcomed to the home and heart of the protagonists. This, however, presents a different kind of terror -- the necessary annihilation not of an enemy, but of a loved one. Aside from this theme, what really makes the book a page-turner is its ability to cut a chapter in a very suspenseful fashion, so even though the book lacks surprises, the building tension keeps me reading forward. How the story unfolds is the secret ingredient in this book’s recipe.

I haven’t read many vampire stories, but out of all of them, Carmilla is the best. It exploits themes that are considered taboo in the time it is written, like homoeroticism. The homoerotic tendencies of the characters make the story even more intriguing. This sensual theme, perhaps, contributes to the fundamental formations of the image of the modern vampire, which is now portrayed as a creature of sexual temptation. Aside from that, why I think that Carmilla is the best vampire story is its influence on vampire fiction in general. Its motifs, atmospheres, and styles of storytelling are clearly seen in later vampire works, as if these works are based on Carmilla alone. Perhaps this is the truth; perhaps it is not. Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t change the fact that later works have adapted Carmilla’s themes.

The only thing that disappoints me is the fact that this book is not gaining much attention from contemporary readers, especially those who enjoy the vampire theme. Perhaps I should tell them, if they don’t know, that Carmilla, the little book that they overlook, is one of Bram Stoker’s inspiration in writing Dracula, the most acclaimed vampire story. I want to say that Carmilla is actually better than Dracula, but I just can’t. This is because they are in different writing forms. Therefore, cannot be compared. But okay, okay, as an opinion, Carmilla is better!

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