Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Book of Renfield – review

Author: Tim Lucas

First Published: 2005

Contains spoilers

I like Tim Lucas. Not only has he written a critical biography of Mario Bava (that I must get at some point) but he also wrote the novel 'Throat Sprockets', which was a book about throat fetishism that, whilst it never mentioned vampires, for me captured the essence of aspects of the genre rather well. So, when I picked up this novel, subtitled “A Gospel of Dracula”, I was somewhat excited.

The premise of the novel is that whilst Seward relinquished his diaries for the use of the heroes in Dracula, he severely edited those patient notes of Renfield he released, due to patient confidentiality. The various diaries that form Dracula were later published as a fiction, at the behest of those involved, by Stoker and – with Renfield being dead – Seward decided to pull his story together.

These notes languished until discovered by his Great Grandson, Martin Seward, who has had them published. As such the book does contain original Dracula text and this is printed in bold so that we can see where the two texts meet. This also enables the reader to realise how true to the original voices, of Seward and Renfield, Lucas has been. The style and timbre of each character is matched perfectly.

The book gives us a great insight into one of the more two dimensional characters of the original novel. Whilst Renfield is so colourful a character that he is well remembered, in Stoker’s work he acts mostly as a psychic barometer of vampire activity. We do not know why this man is so connected to the Count, nor do we know anything about his life. Lucas fills in these gaps masterfully.

Of course there is always going to be issues with this type of book. Does Lucas’ vision match our own? Well for this reader it surpassed any views I might have and fits very neatly into the world Stoker created. There is also the issue that we already know the ending, as Renfield is killed in the original novel. Lucas recognises this and actually puts the death at the head of the novel and then jumps back to the beginning of Renfield’s life in Carfax Asylum and, through discussions with Seward, opens his history. Is Renfield's relayed history true or a delusion created by the patient? That is an answer that will never truly be found.

Lucas also leaves us with a slight and subtle twist in the Appendix of the book, meaning that we have an ending that we could not see coming.

I thoroughly enjoyed this but I did wonder if the novel’s appeal was limited. Knowing Stoker’s work so well it was impossible for me to gauge how someone who had never read Dracula would react to the novel – though I suppose it is less likely that such a person would read it.

An excellent widening of the original novel that never strays from Stoker’s vision nor does it change the original novel’s world view (as too often happens when an author tackles Dracula). 7.5 out of 10.

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