Monday, September 13, 2010
Review: Dracula in Love
an advance review copy was provided by the publisher
Dracula in Love is a intelligent, erotic, feminist revision of the original Bram Stoker Dracula tale--a story that so permeates our culture that vampiric lore springs and flows from the original relentlessly. There has been something of a glut of vampirishness lately, but some readers still can't seem to get enough. Karen Essex's version of Dracula stands out for the quality of the writing, the extraordinary historical research that clearly went into the book, and the interesting narrative twists of Dracula in Love.
I've read very little in the paranormal genre, but I had read Bram Stoker's Dracula; it was the connection to the orginal novel that intrigued me. Dracula in Love is narrated by Mina Murray Harker, Jonathan Harker's financee and then wife in the original story. Essex creates an engaging character and voice for her narrator, although some aspects of Mina strain credibility at first. For instance, Mina suffers from somnambulism, and wakes up out of doors in her nightclothes. A nineteenth century woman who did that more than once would probably end up in an insane asylum (well, there is such an asylum later in the book). I also was skeptical that a 19th century woman would travel out of the country unchaperoned. Aside from those minor details, Essex does a fine job of capturing the social changes at the end of the 19th century, as well as the restrictions from which women still suffered.
Mina is a teacher of etiquette and decorum at Miss Hadley's School for Young Ladies of Accomplishment. When her young fiance, Jonathan Harker, fails to return from a business trip, Mina goes to rescue him from the hospital where he is suffering from a fever, having left the castle of the mysterious Count Dracula. In Karen Essex's version of the Dracula story, the Victorian pre-occupation with female sexuality and its control is the focus of large segments of the novel. There is some attempt to ground the story in real historical attitudes and events of Victorian England, and some of the best writing in the novel is in the sections set in Lindenwood Asylum, an institution for the treatment of women considered to be oversexed. The brutal treatments described in the novel are convincing and dramatic.
Dracula in Love offers a feminist interpretation of vampires, and although some of the eroticism and paranormal couplings seem a little over the top, there is an underlying unity to the story--Essex brings together Celtic paganism, vampire lore, and gothic narrative in a fast-moving tale narrated by a believable female voice. Dracula in Love will be appreciated by lovers of the paranormal genre, and those who like revisionist rewritings of classic gothic tales.