January Book of the Month: Carmilla

I challenged myself to read one book a month this year, and to start the year off, I decided to read Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu. I’ve seen the webseries that adapted the story by KindaTV on YouTube, and I was interested to see where it originated from. Considering it’s been over a year since I’ve last kept up with the webseries, I figured it’d be a good opportunity to acquaint myself with the source material. I usually don’t read books that were written before at least the 1900’s, but much to my own surprise it was a fairly easy and enjoyable read.

While some of the language and mannerisms are dated, the casual tone of Laura recalling her experiences makes the story resemble an almost ancestral feeling of the modern Young Adult Novel. I never found myself stopping to look up words or putting down the story from being overwhelmed by the words on the page, or rather, words on my phone. I’m sure there were a few words that I breezed over by using context clues, due to the fact I was so enraptured by the story itself.

On another note, reading the story on my phone created this odd, disconnection between the idea of the physicality of reading it in its original intended form and what I was reading it on. It was easier and cheaper to carry my phone around and read it. I usually read before my classes start, and reading on my phone for some reason gave people the idea they could interrupt me? I often found people approaching me to speak —despite headphones in and scrolling on my phone— when I was clearly focused on something. I’m all for talking to people when my headphones are out, but I was surprised by the lack of recognition. I wonder if having the physical book there will be a clearer sign that I’m doing something not out of idle nature?

Getting back on track to the book itself, I had heard it heralded as a lesbian vampire story, and I expected it to be an exaggeration. People grasp for any kind of representation in the media (which thankfully we can provide in the modern day) and I thought people were just overhyping what could be a solid friendship with some undertones to it. (Like in many popular TV shows with fandoms to them.) But no, I was completely wrong. Laura is definitely Carmilla’s love interest in the story. The way LeFanu writes about it as well doesn’t immediately jump out to me as anything disdainful either, which is surprising considering it was written in 1871. Laura doesn’t seem entirely enthusiastic of Carmilla’s weirdly bipolar swings of affection in the beginning (who wouldn’t), but she continues to speak and get along with Carmilla until near the end so I guess she was okay? Besides that at least, it didn’t strike me as anything spiteful.

Another part that surprised me was the fact LeFanu used the word vampire within it. I’m not entirely sure why, but I expected the word to be avoided or replaced with some other similar moniker. Considering this predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I was also interested in seeing the different depiction of the vampire itself. Carmilla can shape-shift between her human form and a cat-like beast. She also has a fair amount of super strength and can seemingly disappear into thin air. The only things that stay consistent to many of the other vampire stories is the super strength and the fact she slept in a coffin. And that she could die from a stake to the heart, beheading, and burning.

I had very few criticisms to the story. The first being how General Spielsdorf just kept going on about telling Laura about his story. There had to have been another way to get the information across besides an almost eternal thread of speech. I got lost at some points to where the dialog ended and began. It was necessary information to provide clues to Carmilla’s true identity, but I’m not entirely sure word dumping was the best avenue. I also kept mixing up Madame Perrodon and Mademoiselle LaFontaine. The monikers are so similar I mentally lumped them together; they didn’t differ much from each other anyways from the roles they played. The only other criticism I had was the ending of how Carmilla died. She’s evaded getting caught for hundreds of years but she manages to retreat to the one place the party is snooping around to try to find her? That’s rather dumb of an intelligent character.

Overall, I really enjoyed the story. I’m glad I got one of the classics of horror down; I still have more to read for the year. At some point I’ll get to Dracula and Frankenstein. The next book I’m going to read for February is going to be either Fahrenheit 451 or Cat’s Cradle. I’m leaning towards the latter.