Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sundays with Vlad - review

Author: Paul Bibeau

First published: 2007

Paul Bibeau, as he tells us in this exploration of Dracula as pop-culture icon versus both historical and literary figure, has had a life-long fascination with vampires – due to a childhood prank pulled by his older sister involving plastic fangs. In the prologue of this volume he explains how that fascination led to an ill-conceived detour to Romania, specifically Walachia – on his honeymoon no less – and a realisation that as widespread as a pop-culture icon Dracula had become in the West, the land of the historic Prince hadn’t seemed to embrace the literary figure at all.

The prologue actually made me want to pause in reading for a moment. I wanted to pass the book to my own long-suffering wife and have her read the prologue – just so I could say “See, I’m not that bad. After all, we went to Whitby for our honeymoon”. However, as the book was firmly glued into my hand at this point, such an event didn’t happen.

The reason the book was glued into my hand had much to do with Paul’s writing – a writing style that makes you feel, as you read, that you are on first name terms with the writer. He marries what seems like a genuine affection for the genre, with a wickedly irreverent sense of humour. He looks at the subject through the eyes of a journalist and yet adds a layer of true confession. He might be making a journey through an internationally known genre but it is a personal journey also.

I said the writing displayed a wickedly irreverent sense of humour and regularly I found myself sniggering aloud into the pages. Now this is actually a major feat – no matter how amusing I find a book it is rare that one physically makes me snigger, I guess I’m not wired that way and more often than not the laughter is all internal with naught but a wry smile. I dare you to read about his encounter with American missionaries in Curtea without sniggering, if you’re like me, or guffawing if you’re wired in a normal way.

The book takes us on a strange and twisting tour, through the twisted machinations that surrounded the concept of Dracula-land all the way to a New Jersey boardwalk. We get a 48 hour vampire movie marathon, for the sake of work – though to be frank he picked many of the worst films he could have done! I mean, I’m surprised he survived Dracula 3000, Vampiyaz and Vampires: The Turning (amongst others) in one marathon sitting. Honestly Paul, if you are going to repeat such a task please, email me and I’ll give you some better suggestions!

The book takes a darker turn as he inevitably looks into the gothic scene, vampyre sub-culture and looks at some of the cases involving so called vampire killers. This was the aspect of the book that perhaps would have been harder going for me. I like goth music but have no burning desire to read about the ‘scene’. I am a fan of vampire movies, books and folklore but I am not an aficionado of, or participant in, the vampyre scene. However the writing kept me engaged throughout and those chapters were as worthwhile a part of the journey that the book took us on as any other, even if the scenery became steadily that much darker.

Things lighten up again as we move through Dracula scholarship, which has its own darker aspects, and straight into the tacky world of what he describes as a “Wal-mart Halloween”. The book goes full circle with a return trip to Romania, this time heading into Transylvania rather than the Walachia region.

This was a great read and whilst the book reaches a conclusion, to my way of thinking, it was not the main point of it. Sometimes the point of a journey is not the destination but the journey itself and this was a fine journey in good company. Do not get me wrong, however, whilst the expedition we are taken on is rewarding and filled with humour it does have some poignantly sad moments as well – it’s all part of the journey. I also have to say that I didn’t always agree with some of the thoughts and musings, for example I personally (just) prefer the Lugosi Dracula to the Spanish Version, but these things are simply a matter of taste and it was nice to read another person's view.

I will end my review here as it is pointed out in the book that bloggers “just can’t shut the f*ck up.” – not that I take any offence at this observation as it was delivered with that wicked, irreverent humour I mentioned, because it is actually true and because it had the rider that bloggers are also “smart and educated”.

Except… Well I can’t shut up yet as I should mention that there is a website here and offer a score. This is a weirdly wonderful journey that takes us through various incarnations of the Count, and vampires generally, both in pop-culture and in sub-cultures. 8.5 out of 10.


Derek said...

I was curious about this one. This and a similar book, "The Dead Travel Fast," came out almost simultaneously. I have "The Dead..." but haven't read it, but an cursory look looks like the author takes a snide approach. I hope I am wrong there (great cover, though). I'll check out "Sundays" based on your recommendation.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Derek - I hope you enjoy it.

Golin said...

Don't even bother with "The Dead Travel Fast." Lazily researched and written and almost unreadable. I ordered the two together and Sundays with Vlad is, as you say, hilarious and informative at the same time. "The Dead" is hours of your mortality you'll wish you could get back.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

golin - many thanks for the input and info.

Derek said...

golin - thanks for the warning. I might re-gift "Dead."