Classic, Horror

Review: Carmilla

Cover of "Carmilla," featuring a black and white drawing of a girl in bed, looking at horror at another girl standing in the doorway with her back to the viewer.
Image from Fantastic Fiction

Title: Carmilla

Author: J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Genre: Horror/Classic

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood

Back Cover:

Laura, a young woman deprived of much social interaction on her father’s isolated estate, is disappointed when an expected visitor dies before arriving at her father’s chateau. So she is thrilled when a carriage accident leaves another young woman staying with them until her mother returns from her urgent journey. But there is something darker hiding inside the captivating and charismatic Carmilla.

A classic Victorian vampire novella, Carmilla influenced Bram Stoker’s later treatment of the vampire mythos in Dracula.

Review:

I saw a post on Tumblr recommending this, and it was free on Project Gutenberg and a short read. (Short enough to read while waiting for my fiance to stop snoozing his alarms and get out of bed, actually, which was about 40 minutes.) It’s a short novella, so this is going to be a short review.

This is an old book, and it’s written with a definitely older writing style – dense, exposition-heavy, and packed with vocabulary words that may make you turn to a dictionary. It did take some getting used to (it’s been a while since I’ve read an old book), but I do like that kind of style.

The characters are pretty bare-bones, but that’s kind of expected in a book so short. (And in my opinion, the elegant and lengthy writing made up for what lacked in characterization.) You get the impression that Laura (who narrates) is overall happy with her life but still lonely. Carmilla gets the most characterization – she was charismatic and vibrant, though prone to physical weakness, and intensely affectionate towards Laura, but there are also hints that an equally intense temper underneath her veneer.

I also found it interesting that the female vampire only preyed on female victims, and there were definitely some gay vibes in Carmilla’s affection for Laura. (Of course, that could be my modern brain reading things into 1800s ways of expressing feelings, but I like to think it was at least a little gay.)

Carmilla was a short book, but it was good. It had interesting vampire lore, a cool vampire character, and actually a pretty good atmosphere for as short as it was. Plus, it’s free on Project Gutenberg, so why not give it a shot?

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Horror

Review: Salem’s Lot

Cover of "Salem's Lot," showing the head and neck of a feminine person whose skin is nearly white; their head is tilted back and there are two bleeding puncture wounds in their neck.
Image from Stephen King

Title: Salem’s Lot

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Horror

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood, gore, child abuse, spousal abuse, rape mention

Back Cover:

Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, Is the story of a mundane town under siege from the forces of darkness. Considered one of the most terrifying vampire novels ever written, it cunningly probes the shadows of the human heart–and the insular evils of small-town America.

Review:

Now, before you go, “horror? Jalyn doesn’t read horror” – I know. This isn’t the kind of thing I would normally pick up. But my fiance is a HUGE Stephen King fan and he’s been pestering me for ages to read something by him. Eventually, I ran out of library books and agreed to give it a try.

(This was back in late November, mind you – my fiance’s mass market paperback copy is 631 pages and I just now finished it.)

This book has the biggest ensemble cast I think I’ve ever read, so I’m not going to talk about every character. It spends some time with pretty much everyone in Salem’s Lot. But the character who gets the most page time is Ben Mears, a moderately successful writer who grew up in Salem’s Lot and returned to work on his newest book. He also hopes to be able to process his feelings about the decidedly creepy Marsten House and the trauma of, as a child, being the one to find the body of Hubert Marsten in the house.

The rest of the characters mostly rely on stereotypes for you to get to “know” them – like the town gossip or that one guy who everyone thinks is weird but he doesn’t mind doing that job no one wants so they put up with him. But somehow King manages to make that stereotyping feel artful, so I didn’t mind it at all.

The first half of the book goes really slowly. It spends a lot of time building atmosphere – it’s a small town, with all its small town positives and negatives (which will be quickly recognized by anyone who’s lived in a small town), but there’s also something eerie and possibly a little evil living there, and it’s centered on the Marsten House. It also spends a lot of time on characters, especially Ben and how everyone in the town reacts to him. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like in-depth character studies or would rather sacrifice atmosphere for action, you will hate this. And honestly, I liked it and it still took me two months to get through it.

I feel like anything I say about the second half will be a spoiler, because the book spends so much time setting up the mysteries and vague uneasiness that gets revealed in the second half. That’s where the vague uneasiness grows and becomes the full-blown horror. I also think it dragged a little towards the end – the last hundred pages were a slog for me. They weren’t bad, I just wanted to find out the ending and wanted King to dispense with the lengthy descriptions and get on with the story.

To be honest, I didn’t find it that horror-y. But I think a large part of it was that I was reading it in bright light, sitting on the couch next to my fiance while he played video games, and kept getting distracted by the game and interrupted by my fiance’s occasional comments. I’m sure if I’d read it alone at night (or even in an environment where I wasn’t interrupted frequently), it would have been much scarier.

I will say one thing – Stephen King can write. Not that I was surprised, since he’s such a hugely bestselling author, but it was good. Lengthy and lyrical, but he has a remarkable knack for descriptions and I didn’t even mind how lengthy they were. It just added atmosphere. Whether or not you like his subject matter, he’s certainly a master of writing. (And this is only his second novel, I’m sure his later ones are even better.)

Okay, this is already pretty long, so I’m going to finish up with this: Salem’s Lot really wasn’t my kind of book, and I highly doubt I’ll read another Stephen King. But King is an excellent writer, and even though I wasn’t particularly invested in the story, he made me need to know how it ended. It’s not good in the sense that I liked it (I’m still not sure if I did or not), but it’s definitely good in the sense that it is a solid, well-written book.