Today is the centenary of Bram Stoker’s death, and I thought I’d mark the occasion in two ways – by reading his novel The Lair of the White Worm and by listing my top thirteen vampire novels. Unfortunately the former took so long that I have little time left for the latter, but I’ll stick my neck out anyway (and where vampires are concerned what better part of the anatomy to place in the firing line). So here goes:-
Le Fanu’s classic tale of vampires with a forbidden love subtext, and yes I know that it’s not really a novel, but it is simply too significant and too accomplished to ignore. A huge influence on the vampire subgenre, economically written and as psychologically astute now as it was when first published.
The seminal text as far as vampires are concerned, to the point where just about every bloodsucker story since is either following in Stoker’s footsteps or reacting against him. Stoker’s vision, filtered through the eyes of playwrights and film makers, has become the archetype, the vampire as suave and aristocratic predator. None of which should obscure the fact that it’s actually a very good story, with a tight narrative structure and carefully constructed plot, touching on themes of xenophobia and plague fear that are just as relevant now as then.
I Am Legend (1954)
Of course it doesn’t quite make sense – one human left in a world of vampires is as ridiculous as one cow left in a world of carnivores – and those who have argued that it’s more readily seen as a zombie novel have a point. What Matheson did though is reverse values, bringing into question our ideas of normality and morality. In a vampire society the solitary human is the monster to be feared, the bogeyman. Everything is relative.
Some of Your Blood (1961)
Sturgeon’s short, tautly written novel, eschews the supernatural to present us with a compelling case study of a man with a taste for blood. I’m surprised this hasn’t been more influential, with more tales of human bloodsuckers.
Interview with the Vampire (1976)
Probably the next most influential vampire novel after Dracula, Anne Rice’s work gave us the angsty vampire, with a shift of emphasis away from the bloodletting to the vampire’s longevity as its defining feature, asking how it feels to live on so long after everyone and everything you have ever known is turned to dust. Lestat and company face the same dilemmas as the rest of us – asking for a purpose to their extended lives, a moral underpinning that will provide a rationale for the slaughter they commit. It’s also about New Orleans, and that’s cool.
The Vampire Tapestry (1980)
McKee Charnas takes a scientific approach, showing her vampire’s antecedents and how such a creature would remain undiscovered and survive in human society. At bottom, it’s the vampire as serial killer, and in the figure of anthropologist Edward Weyland we have a sociopath in all but name. Only Weyland grows in stature, finally coming to the realisation that humans are more than mere cattle.
The Hunger (1981)
Miriam Blaylock is another vampire trying to understand her own nature, and enlisting the aid of a haematologist to do so, but driving her even more than the appetite for blood is the fear of loneliness, the need to have someone at her side down the years. The most terrible and unnerving thing in Whitley Streiber’s novel is the fate of Blaylock’s past lovers, with its echo of Swift’s struldbrugs.
Fevre Dream (1982)
I love vampires and I love Mark Twain’s tales of riverboat culture, so Martin’s lush and expansive novel about vampires sailing a steamboat down the Mississippi hits all the right notes. It does nothing new with the vampire archetype, at least that I can recall, but I do remember it being a whole lot of fun.
Vampire Junction (1984)
The first in a trilogy, Somtow’s novel is a shockingly violent depiction of vampirism, packed with images that scorch their way into the mind’s eye. The author picked up on the idea of the child vampire put to such good use by Rice, and melded it with a rock star persona (and, the very next year, Rice made Lestat a singer) to create something vibrant and original, a work whose influence is still being felt today, as with some aspects of Let the Right One In.
Anno Dracula (1992)
Newman imagines what would have happened if Dracula had been victorious in Stoker’s novel, and the results are not pleasant for the characters, but they’re a real treat for the reader. The term larger than life was meant for books like this, with its wonderful blend of fast paced action and literary references, while underneath all of that is a subtext about the perils of fascism.
The Golden (1993)
Beautifully written, this is a vampire novel, with heartstopping moments of sudden violence, and also a detective story as Shepard’s protagonist strives to find out who has murdered the offspring of a breeding project intended to produce a special bloodline. The glory of the book though is in the lavishly described and magnificently baroque setting of Castle Banat, a house with many mansions, and every one of them occupied by some new threat or grotesquerie.
A Dracula for the noughties, as the archetypal bloodsucker joins forces with the modern media to conquer New York, in an endlessly inventive and at times disturbing story that put me in mind of Japanese film Kairo. Marks’ book abounds with brittle, snappy dialogue, scenes of bloodletting and sharply satirical characters.
That’s only twelve titles, and I just can’t make up my mind what the final entry should be. Contenders include Hotel Transylvania, Salem’s Lot, They Thirst, Carrion Comfort, Covenant with the Vampire, Sips of Blood, The Evil Seed, The Third Section and a few others that I can’t bring to mind right now as the witching hour draws ever closer.
So, let’s put the thirteenth seat at the high table out for tender. Anyone who feels inclined to do so is cordially invited to list their favourite vampire novels not in my top twelve, up to a maximum of three titles, and the one with the most votes will win.
Well, unless it’s something sparkly, in which case, sod democracy – I’ll make my own choice and never trust you people with anything important again.