Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Honourable Mentions: The Letters of Mina Harker

It might seem strange that I am giving this book by Dodie Bellamy an honourable mention rather than a review. After all, Mina was one of the primary characters in Dracula and the concept of novels that follow her life after the events in Stoker’s opus is not an uncommon one.

Sometimes, however, you pick up a book and it is not what you expected. Mina is the central character of this book, the writer of the letters that make up the work, and Mina is a vampire. However that is not the actuality, Mina is a character, a construct if you like. A second persona that allows Bellamy to explore her desires and fears. There is no vampiric action, there is no real linear narrative – this is an exploration of the psyche using an assumed character that emboldens the writer.

The description in the blurb described the book as postmodern but to me it was a fantastically written piece of beat writing, not surprising then that Bellamy hails from San Francisco. It was not what I was expecting at all, but I was pleasantly surprised given my love of the beats. Bellamy uses the character’s sexuality and sensuality, inherent in the vampire genre, to explore her own desires and the fears those desires generate, using the sexually unrepressed nature of the vampire – though Mina could be any sexually empowered woman – thus the vampirism is almost irrelevant.

That said, in a genre sense, there were a couple of passages that struck me and I wished to share them with you. The first encapsulates my frustration over the movie adaptation of Stoker’s work perfectly and the second gave me pause to think about the genre.

“am I single? betrothed? married to Jonathan? who runs the insane asylum? does he live? do I die? Sometimes Lucy is my best friend sometimes my sister sometimes my husband is my father, I don’t even look for Quincey he’s forgotten so often, and in a couple of radical versions MINA DOESN’T EXIST EITHER. For some reason Lucy is always there – hissing and panting in sexy grave clothes she gets to be the (non) living embodiment of sexual abandon….”

The passage goes on further but did capture the frustration I personally feel as film maker after film maker changes the story Stoker wrote. Don’t get me wrong, I like many of the versions as those who have read my various reviews will know, but I still live in hope of a Stoker accurate film one day.

The other passage actually concerned the zombie, Bud, from Day of the Dead:

“…the scientist throws him the leg of a colonel which he gnaws like a pit bull. It’s not the flesh he craves but the faint scent of life that still clings to the colonel’s leg.”

This made me think about the differences between vampires and zombies. Generally the vampire needs to feed upon blood for the blood is the life. It is the key to maintaining their undead state. The zombie however seems to eat flesh and yet does not need to, the undead state seems fairly much permanent whether they feed or not. A vampire will feed on another vampire, in some films and books, whereas zombies do not attack their own kind - which makes sense if they are attracted to the essence of life that they do not possess. This little passage suggested to me that perhaps the zombie, in a non-cognizant and instinctive way, is trying to taste that which it has lost whereas the vampire is consciously attempting to survive? Just a thought.

Anyway, a couple of interesting genre related moments in a book that, despite featuring one of the genre’s main characters, is pretty much not a genre novel. It is rather good however, especially for those, like me, who enjoy beat literature.


Mateo said...

Darn, doesn't sound like it's for me. I would absolutely love a genre book about Mina though.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mateo.

Have a look for the novel "Mina" and its sequel "Blood to Blood" by Elaine Bergstrom. Probably more what you are looking for.

At a slight tangent, there is also "Bloodline" by Kate Cary which is focused on Quincey Harker and set during WW1.

Mateo said...

Went to the bookstore today and picked up Blood to Blood (Mina wasn't in stock). Looks interesting; think I'll bump it up in my reading rotation and tackle it once I finish the third Dresden book.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mateo, hope you enjoy it - though my personal thought would be to read Mina first. I had a check and it is on Amazon US marketplace for $1.99