Dracula by Bram Stoker
I can honestly say that this year I am embracing Autumn to its fullest. We have started to light the fires in our log burner, the halloween tree complete with pumpkin faces is on display and my in laws have grown probably the biggest pumpkins I have ever seen. I've now taken this one step further by indulging in some Halloween reading and with Stephen King's The Stand still waving 'coo-ee' at me from the blanket box, (I swear this book is taking on a life of its own), I decided to read one of my favourite gothic horror classics, Dracula by Bram Stoker.
First of all, forget every Dracula film you have ever seen, if you want to be scared out of your skin, read the book instead. This is truly a masterclass in tension and fear. Told through a series of diaries, letters, medical notes and impressions from the main cast, we slowly build a picture of Count Dracula and his murderous intent. The novel starts with Jonathan Harker's journey to see his client, Count Dracula at his castle in the wilds of Romania. His diary entries alone add to the mounting tension, the wary villagers performing the evil eye when Jonathan mentions where he is going, the strange carriage driver, the howl of the wolf and the strange blue lights on the road. All is not well and as Jonathan arrives at the castle and discovers the secret of its monstrous owner, he realises he is in the most gravest of danger.
Bram Stoker ramps up the tension further by recounting the ship's log of the Demeter. For me, this is a jewel of a piece of writing, even recounting it makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. One by one, the crew slowly start to disappear, a strange pale figure is seen one night, a strange fog descends, a wolf's howl is heard, until grimly the Demeter arrives in the port of Whitby with just one crew member, who has strapped himself to the wheel and quite dead.
All of this relentlessness feels like the pumping of blood, constant and building. A group form to hunt the creature and are thwarted at every turn. It builds to a race to capture the creature before he reaches his castle and returns to full power. It is truly marvellous stuff.
The group formed to destroy the creature are well written, Mina Harker (Jonathan's wife) is portrayed as good and brave but also very strong. Dr Van Helsing is eccentric and passionate and his protege Dr Seward is conflicted and probably the most rounded character of them all. Renfield, who comes into Dracula's employ is fascinating, quite mad and obsessed by questions of immortality. Appearing sane one moment and lost the next, he adds to this mounting darkness.
There are questions of desire and sensuality throughout which adds to the gothic feel of the novel. Dracula is able to corrupt both fun-loving Lucy with her many gentleman admirers and virtuous Mina, devoted to her husband. Both are strong women, and both succumb to Dracula's thrall. Dracula's harpies are terrifying, sexual and without morals. To a Victorian audience, this must have been quite outrageous.
But for me, it is the tension and fear that shines. The pace is fantastic, Dracula's pursuit of victims never pauses, it is relentless and all throughout the quickening pulse of approaching darkness. It didn't quite make the Top 100 of the BBC Big Read, but came in at 104 instead. In my opinion it should have been a lot higher!