Michael Talbot, 1982, 406 pages
Caution some spoilers ahead.
I found this book among NPR’s Margot Adler’s list of the seventy five vampire novels she had read in six months. The title intrigued me more than her brief review because I’ve been playing around with the vampire/human interdependency concept in my own writing. As I read it I found that Talbot had touched on a couple of other of my favorite themes as well.
First I want to say that this is an odd book in a way. It was written in 1982 and takes place in the 1880’s. There is a sort of unevenness about the writing with the beginning feeling a bit ponderous as we learn Dr. John Gladstone’s back-story, family history, and his first meeting as a child with the “angel”. There is a definite Victorian feel to the writing here, which seems to lighten up and take on a somewhat more modern tone until by the end one can almost see the action film version of the story unfolding with chase scenes and daring escapes.
It is interesting too, that central to the plot is Dr. Gladstone’s invention of a deadly virus for which no antigens can be produced, and hence no cure can be created. The book was written during the time period when the HIV virus was first being identified and I can’t help but wonder about the synchronicity in that.
The real strength in this novel is the sense of *otherness* about the vampire characters. Despite looking very human, Talbot’s vampires are so far removed from humans by their antiquity that there can be no meeting of the minds, much less the heart. They are intellectually and emotionally divorced from their humanity in a very believable way. Despite that kind of detachment from the rabble of humanity, they are the keepers of humanity’s cultural past; hoarding away literature, art and science that mankind may have created, but like children, carelessly tossed aside. They are a quite separate species, with their own languages and values, but they are among us, an invisible force acting upon our history.
It is an interesting paradox that while these vampires are manipulative, game-playing and indifferent to the human mental suffering they cause as they pursue their own goals, they are at the same time preserving the most valuable of what humanity has produced.
The author’s characterization is well done, though I feel he could have tied up some loose ends in terms of relationships. The one relationship I would love to have seen explored more was between the two main vampire characters; there’s a suggestion of conflict, of something complex, but Talbot never goes much further than that. The story is told in first person from Dr. Gladstone’s POV so maybe that was a limiting factor, or maybe Talbot felt if he let us see too much into the psyches of his vampires they would lose some of the mystery he portrayed so well.
What did you think of this review?