Much Ado About the Undead

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.”
“What for?”
“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.

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20 comments

  1. I heart Dracula. I even heart Interview With the Vampire a little, because it did the sensitive-ghoul thing first. And it was a little sexy. But I don’t get the fan-demonium of the vampire genre now. It’s like (flip hair) SO ’90’s. So Buffy the Vampire Slayer- Clueless meets evil-undead? I was so there. But Dracula really is fantastic epistolary fiction. It’s a great example of how that novel format can build suspense.

    Also, this may post twice because Google Chrome is PMS-ing or something.

    Amanda- deadwhiteguyslit.blogspot.com

    1. I’m going to have to disagree about Dracula. I actually tried reading it twice. Once in high school and again about six months ago. I was just bored beyond belief. And I even like ‘boring’ books – Moby Dick, with its pages and pages of high seas tedium, is one of my all-time favorite reads. Like I said in the post, I’m just not a vampire person. Anyway, cheers for the comments!

  2. If you liked BF, I think you will *really* like You Suck. Especially because of Abby. She’s my fave. 🙂 Also try A Dirty Job, which is tangentially related.

  3. I haven’t read this group of books, and like you, I don’t get the whole vampire phenomenon right now. I’ve read my share of vampire novels, but they were more along the lines of McCammon’s We Thirst, or Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series (the first of which scared the pants off me during one night reading alone) and also like you, Salem’s Lot. When you’re ready to move on with Moore, try his Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. I really think you’ll like that one.

    1. Lots of people have recommended Lamb. I’ve also heard really good things about Fluke. I’ll be looking for both of those. Haven’t read any of the vampire novels you mentioned – are they straight horror novels?

  4. Have read a few Christopher Moore book’s & would heartily recommend Lamb -the gospel according to Biff or Fluke. not read the vampire ones, as you don’t get the genre, but being Moore would consider it.

  5. I still need to read this Moore book. I actually read You Suck, not realizing it was the second in the series. Not my favorite Moore book (that would be Lamb, as a few people mentioned above) but if you liked this one, may as well continue on with the series. Really, can’t go wrong with any of books.

    1. I will eventually get to the rest of the vampire series, but I think Lamb is going to be the next one of Moore’s that I get to. It seems to be the one everyone says is the best. Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. Im quite picky with my vampire stuff but can recommend Let the right one in. This one sounds quite interesting but may leave it a while as Im getting ‘vampired out’ at the moment.

  7. @Kinna- Thanks for stopping by!
    @Jessica – My problem is that I seem to get ‘vampired out’ withing twenty pages of the the vampires first appearing. As I said though, I’m sure that there are good vampire books out there. I’ll look up Let the Right One In, but I can’t promise that I’ll get around to reading it. Cheers for the comment!

  8. I really like Dracula although I remember the first 100 pages were a bit slow. It was fun for me to read Dracula as a symbol of Victorian fears of sexuality and the idea of something terrifying lasting forever, polluting future generations. But the story itself was fun, too, after it picked. I don’t blame you for not being into vamps. To each his own. I did read Twilight and enjoyed it but not for the vamps as much as for a simple romance story…which is what most of the vampire stories seem to be anymore. Not much horror just a lot of barely subdued eroticism from what I’ve seen on TV. I haven’t read anything by Moore. Maybe his vamps are a good place for me to start.

  9. I know I’ve read some vampire books out there, but cannot, for the life of me, remember any. Guess that speaks for itself, huh?
    A few weeks ago, I read Dracula, which turned out to be the biggest disappointment of my life. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but still…
    There I was, settling in for some repressed sexual tension and violence, and instead I got stuck with annoyingly noble characters and a villain that pretty much did nothing. Gah.
    I do want to read this book, though. It seems pretty funny.
    Anyway, awesome blog. Will look around now.

  10. @Chelle – I keep hearing about what a great book Dracula is, but I just don’t see it. I suppose that’s not a fair judgement seeing how I’ve never made it all the way through, but I just found the writing stiff, the characters boring, and the titular villain just not all that creepy. This may be me – I tend to find all vampires rather unconvincing. Do read this Moore book. I found it very, very funny and, for someone that appreciates vampires, it might be even more so.
    @thefriande – Congrats on making it all the way through Dracula. No small feat – it defeated me twice. I completely agree with you on all points. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Completely agree with you on the vampire lit. I know I’m probably in the minority with this thinking (maybe that makes two of us) but I don’t really see the appeal, either.

    Just discovered your blog tonight and have subscribed. Glad you nominated yourself for BBAW, Pete – you have a very well written blog.

  12. Hey Pete, thanks for stopping by my blog – am totally with you on the vampire genre. The kind of thing I’d be embarrassed to be seen reading on the tube (yes am that shallow.) This book does sound sort of good though…
    Cheers, Lyndsey

  13. @Melissa – Thanks for coming by (and agreeing with me about the vampire stuff!). It’s always good to have a new reader. Cheers!
    @teadevotee – I read Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol only in my bedroom and late at night. There’s something to be said for being a book snob, to a certain degree anyway. This book doesn’t really fit into the vampire lit category, so I think you’d like it. Cheers for the comments!

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