Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.Dracula by Bram Stoker
Narrator: Alan Cumming, Tim Curry, Simon Vance, Katherine Kellgren, Susan Duerden, John Lee, Graeme Malcolm, Steven Crossley
Published by Audible Studios on May 26, 1897 (Original)
Genres: Classic Literature, Horror
Length: 15 hr. 28 min. (Audiobook)
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During a business visit to Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania, a young English solicitor finds himself at the center of a series of horrifying incidents. Jonathan Harker is attacked by three phantom women, observes the Count's transformation from human to bat form, and discovers puncture wounds on his own neck that seem to have been made by teeth. Harker returns home upon his escape from Dracula's grim fortress, but a friend's strange malady — involving sleepwalking, inexplicable blood loss, and mysterious throat wounds — initiates a frantic vampire hunt.
Vampires, bats, and wolves, oh my!
First Sentence: “3 May. Bistritz.–Left Munich at 8:35 P.M., on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrives at 6:46, but train was an hour late.”
Positives: I love a good gothic horror tale and Dracula is king of the genre (and Frankenstein its queen). The book is written as the letters, diary entries, and memos of the main characters–perfect for Audible’s ensemble cast production. Alan Cumming is a particular joy to listen to in the role of Dr. Seward.
Negatives: While I love Victorian literature, it can be a bit overwrought at times and the long sentences are sometimes difficult to follow on audio. I also don’t love Victorian gender politics, which make numerous appearances throughout the book. If I had to listen to Lucy breathlessly proclaim how unworthy she is of the strong, brave men in her life (think this book was written by a man?), I would probably throw up.
Conclusion: Dracula is an engaging classic tale I think everyone should read. I’m glad I listened to this particular audiobook production, but I would like to read the physical book at some point in the future. I think it might be a very different experience.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Published by Viking Books on 1962
Genres: Classic Literature, Horror
Pages: 214 (Hardcover)
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Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.
This modern classic has been getting a lot of press lately. It’s slated for a film adaptation and a biography of the author by Ruth Franklin is set to be released on the 27th of this month. I would describe the book as horror light. It’s not the sort of thing that’s going to cost you any sleep, but it’s just disturbing enough to fit the category. In some ways, it reminds me a little of Stoker, but that is an very imperfect association. Suffice it to say that this is the sort of book you just need to dive in and read–trying to summarize it will only take away from the experience.
First Sentence: “My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.”
Positives: The writing is wholly unique and totally brilliant. Jackson ascribes a very particular, odd sort of cadence to her narrator, Merricat, and the effect is quite creepy. She describes things in obsessive detail, often repeating herself. This has the effect of making Merricat seem mentally, shall we say, off, and not all there, if you know what I mean.
Negatives: The secret that is revealed near the end of the story is entirely predictable, though I’m not really sure I can call that a negative, since I’m fairly certain it’s supposed to be predictable, like when you’re watching a horror movie and you know the monster is going to jump out of the closet and the knowing makes the suspense all the more unbearable. The thing with this book though, is that the suspense isn’t unbearable at all and I think there could have been just a bit more of it.
Conclusion: We Have Always Lived in the Castle is not my usual reading fair. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it and I look forward to seeing the film adaptation.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Published by Victor Gollancz on 1979
Genres: Classic Literature, Short Stories, Horror
Pages: 162 (Paperback)
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A collection of dark, sensual, and fantastic stories inspired by the fairy tales and legends of Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, vampires, werewolves, and more.
The Bloody Chamber is a collection of fairytales (not the Disney kind), retold in a sumptuous gothic style. The book is known for its erotic overtones and feminist message.
First Sentence: “I remember how, that night, I lay awake in the wagon-lit in a tender, delicious ecstasy of excitement, my burning cheek pressed against the impeccable linen of the pillow and the pounding of my heard mimicking that of the great pistons ceaselessly thrusting the train that bore me through the night, away from Paris, away from girlhood, away from the white, enclosed quietude of my mother’s apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage.”
Positives: Carter’s writing is absolutely gorgeous. At the time I read the book, it vaguely reminded me of Charlotte Brontë’s writing in Jane Eyre, though a bit more sensual. My favorite story is “Puss-in-Boots,” a humorous and deliciously irreverent retelling of the classic tale. I also loved the title story, a tale of marriage, murder, and sex reminiscent of Crimson Peak. (The similarities are so striking, that I have to wonder if Guillermo del Toro was inspired by “The Bloody Chamber.”)
As I mentioned in my introduction, there is a strong feminist message throughout the book. At times this is subtle, particularly when exploring female desire, another major theme, and at times it is overt.
I was a young virgin, and therefore men denied me rationality just as they denied it to all those who were not exactly like themselves, in all their unreason. … That clockwork girl who powdered my cheeks for me; had I not been allotted only the same kind of imitative life amongst men that the dealmaker had given her?
Negatives: The first half of the book is definitely stronger than the second half. The stories shrink in length, the delightful voluptuousness of the language gradually flattens out, and I went from savoring every word to rushing a bit toward the finish line.
Conclusion: This slim volume is gorgeous and definitely worth reading, but you may want to pick and choose which stories you invest your time it. “The Bloody Chamber” and “Puss-in-Boots” are my top picks.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think?
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