I’ve never particularly understood the appeal of vampire literature. My attempts to break into this particular genre have almost always ended with my leaving a half-read (or quarter-read) book on my desk for weeks until I’ve forgotten the story and the book goes back up on the shelf. This was the fate of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire, and, when I was that age, innumerable young adult titles about hormonal, angst-ridden teens dealing with baby-fangs and blood cravings. My indifference towards vampires extends to other mediums as well. HBO’s True Blood? Yawn. Twilight films? Yawn yawn.
I suppose I just don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to make of vampires. In the old days, they were supposed to frighten the reader. In their modern incarnations, it seems they’re supposed to elicit sympathy and understanding. I have a hard time mustering up either emotion.
To be fair, my anti-vampire bias isn’t based on a very wide range of material. I’m sure there are some great vampire books out there whose undead antagonists don’t come off as cheap haunted-house puppets or whose bloodsucking protagonists aren’t self-pitying hunks with rock-solid abs and sensitive souls. What little bit I have read, however, just reinforces these tired, boring cliches. I did enjoy Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, but I like anything by King and I enjoyed the book despite the vampires, not because of them.
After saying all that, however, I will admit to being pleasantly surprised by Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends. It was a light, fun read that overturned the tired old vampire cliches to great comic effect. Like when Tommy, having just found out that the beautiful woman who picked him up one night in a parking lot was a vampire, goes and buys dozens of books and proceeds to make a checklist of vampire fact and fiction.
“Let me smell your breath.” He bent close to her.
She turned her head and shielded her mouth. “Tommy, I just woke up. Let me brush my teeth first.”
“Vampires are supposed to have the ‘fetid breath of a predator,’ or, in some cases, ‘breath like the rotting smell of the charnel house.’ C’mon, give us a whiff.”
Jody reluctantly breathed in his face. He sat up and considered the list.
“Well?” She asked.
“I’m thinking. I need to get the dictionary out of my suitcase.”
“I’m not sure what a charnel house is.”
“Can I brush my teeth while you look?”
“No, wait, I might need another whiff….Here it is,” he said, putting his finger on the word. “‘Noun. A mausoleum or morgue. A structure where corpses are buried or stored. See Morning Breath.’ I guess that we check ‘fact’ on that one.”
The book is peppered with amusing situations like this one premised on the idea that vampire cliches having nothing to do with the reality of being a vampire.
While Christopher Moore earned a new fan with this book, I still haven’t altered my view on vampire literature. In all honesty, the story here wasn’t all that fascinating. Girl becomes vampire, finds a human to assist her, more powerful vampire threatens human, vampire girl beats powerful vampire with help of human. Ho-hum. The most interesting characters weren’t the vampires but a group of misfits that stock a supermarket and a homeless man who calls himself the Emperor. The lead villain, an 800 year old vampire bored of (what else?) eternal life, was little more than a cardboard cutout.
Ultimately, I found myself enjoying my second full vampire novel in spite of the vampires. Moore’s witty and irreverent prose, especially the dialogue, kept the story moving fast enough so that the vampires almost seemed besides the point – they were crucial to the story, but irrelevant to my enjoyment of the book.
Bloodsucking Fiends is the first in a vampire trilogy (why do vampire books always seem to come in series?) and I’ll probably end up reading the other two. But first I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth (sorry, I’m a sucker for bad puns) into some of his non-vampire related works.