Tag Archives: November Novella Challenge

Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

3.5 stars3.5/5

Published in 1872, Carmilla predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula, by 25 years, and is the account of a young woman named Laura who unwittingly becomes susceptible to the attentions of a female vampire.

Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

112 pages, Downloaded via the Eucalyptus App for iPhone (Picture is from the 2000 Prime Classics Library edition).

While thinking of a book choice for the November Novella Challenge II, I remembered that I had downloaded this Gothic Novella on my iPhone (Eucalyptus App) and so decided to read the book that influenced Dracula and countless lesbian vampire films!

I found Carmilla to be written in an easy and engaging style. Le Fanu makes good use of description to create atmosphere and form images in the reader’s mind but doesn’t divert too much from the plot which progresses at a good pace. I was quite enchanted by one description of the landscape of Styria (in Austria) where the story is set:

“We sat down on a rude bench, under a group of magnificent lime trees. The sun was setting with all its melancholy splendor behind the sylvan horizon, and the stream that flows beside our home and passes under the steep old bridge I have mentioned, wound through many a group of noble trees, almost at our feet, reflecting in its current the fading crimson of the sky.”

While most people now would not consider Carmilla to be a frightening story it does have an eerie creeping atmosphere and Le Fanu creates intrigue by dropping hints (not always subtle) about the danger that threatens Laura along the way, like the fact that a friend’s daughter has recently died in strange circumstances.

“The fiend who betrayed our infatuated hospitality has done it all.”

There is a heavily suggested sexual dynamic between Laura and Carmilla, which adds a more disturbing dimension to the story. The vampire, who takes pleasure in prolonging full possession of her victim, is grooming Laura. While Carmilla seems almost in love with Laura at times, it becomes apparent as the book goes on that the passion that she displays is a result of her lust for blood.

“Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering…”

Carmilla is definitely worth reading if you are at all interested in the gothic genre. It is a much better story than The Castle of Otranto (which I read a few months ago), because it has the right balance between being melodramatic in parts and also well written. It is also a much quicker read than Dracula if you fancy curling up for an afternoon and devouring (excuse the pun) a vampire story in one sitting.

Have you read any novels that you would recommend in the gothic genre?

If you are interested in the November Novella Challenge you can find details by clicking on the lovely button below:

The Stepford Wives, Ira Levin

The Stepford Wives, Ira LevinI picked up this little gem, on my first trip to a library that I’ve recently joined. Given that I have a TBR list a mile long I thought this would be the perfect book to dip into and I could also join in on Bibliofreak’s November Novella Challenge.

I don’t often read books that I’ve already seen as movies but I was intrigued to see what The Stepford Wives would be like in writing, because in film is so notorious now as to be clichéd. Reading Ira Levin’s book I felt that at the time it must have been quite a curious read – original and with strong opinions about what (some) men really want in a woman (whether they admit it or not).

At the beginning of the book, lead character Joanna Eberhart a liberal-minded photographer moves to Stepford with her husband and two children. Joanna is struck by how odd the behaviour of the women in Stepford is from the outset. She finds it hard to talk to them, and initially believes they are giving her the cold-shoulder, and it seems that they have no time for friendship because they have an obsession for cleaning and keeping home. She finds a close friend in another recent arrival – the gutsy Bobbie, but when she turns into just another ‘hausfrau’, her suspicions that something unsavoury is going on in Stepford are confirmed.

The first thing that I noticed about this novel was that it felt very modern. Levin’s writing sets the scene while being simple and to the point, and his lead character Joanna is a very believable female with a strong attitude. I immediately liked her and felt genuine concern about whether she would become a zombie-wife as well as the others. I think this is quite an achievement for a man writing in 1975. I suppose women’s lib was a hot topic at this time so this would undoubtably have influenced Levin but I still find it to be a strikingly deft commentary on women’s roles. According to the director’s note in the front of the book, there was feminist backlash against the book. I find this bizarre to say the least given that it is essentially a critique of the shampoo-ad American plastic-housewife role. It’s also worth noting that Levin opens the novel with a Simone de Beauvoir quotation.

After reading on the jacket that Levin wrote Rosemary’s Baby (of which I have only seen the film), I kept seeing similarities in the female characters, trapped by rather disturbing circumstances, and in the clever way in which Levin builds suspense with a dark-creeping certainly that something very bad is happening under the surface. Even if you’ve seen either of the Stepford Wives films, the book is definitely worth a read. It’s an engrossing story with brilliantly written characters which also has the added benefit of having a bit of a camp storyline.