Review: Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu

‘But to die as lovers may – to die together, so that they may live together.’

Okay so classics very rarely need to be reviewed, especially in the style I do mine where it’s focused on the elements that did and didn’t work for me. However, this is also my blog I made for random book chats so here we are! My first time reviewing a Classic!

In an isolated castle deep in the Austrian forest, teenaged Laura leads a solitary life with only her father, attendant and tutor for company. Until one moonlit night, a horse-drawn carriage crashes into view, carrying an unexpected guest — the beautiful Carmilla.

So begins a feverish friendship between Laura and her entrancing new companion, one defined by mysterious happenings and infused with an implicit but undeniable eroticism. As Carmilla becomes increasingly strange and volatile, prone to eerie nocturnal wanderings, Laura finds herself tormented by nightmares and growing weaker by the day.

So I will be trying my best not to spoil Carmilla, bear in mind this book is almost a 150 years old, has seen retellings galore including Rachel Klein’s YA classic The Moth diaries, the web series and it’s sequel movie. This book is also on the Vampire TBR that I will eternally be tipping away at and my friend absolutely loved this book. And who am I to question her recs.

Short and to the point, we follow Laura as she recounts an encounter from her childhood and how it linked to a period in her young adult life. Specifically time she spent in the company of an enigmatic girl called Carmilla. Now from the start, I was reading this with one lens only and that was the gay one. I just want to make it clear how I approached this. But as the focus of the book is these two told through the eyes of Laura and I was not expecting it to embrace what I thought would be relegated to the subtext.

I listened to this on audio book, the Audible one specifically. That does change the actual text a little so if you do want the pure story, the actual text version might be best. Mostly in terms of characters (likely for casting David Tennant, which is fair) but I didn’t enjoy it at first for Laura’s narration. It was a very husky, over exerted type voice. Maybe this was intentional but I definitely found it not to my taste. The main advantage to the audio is the level of gravitas it gives to Laura and Carmilla’s interactions. Everyone will tell you that it’s really left to the reader to decide if the two are actually engaged in a romantic or sexual relationship but this version has very distinct sound design to get it across. Kisses, light moans, whispers of passion from Carmilla as she begs Laura to stay with her. Nothing left to my imagination! So if you’re willing to sacrifice a character change and a hoarse protagonist to hear what is DEFINITELY some gal pals, this might be the best one for you.

Now we talked about the queer lady vampires, let’s talk the horror. This does get downplayed, I feel, for just how creepy it is. I’m a horror/Gothic novel veteran but I still like that I can get creeped out by these older stories. I particularly was given a good start with the opening encounter where Laura described a young girl just quietly creeping up her bed. Just something about waking up in the total dark after a dream where you’re still not quite conscious and seeing that really gave me the chills. I have never read Le Fanu’s other work but I imagine his mastery with this is across his other Gothic work. A mundane, creeping of something happening on front of your eyes but it’s too late to react. That’s how I felt the other half of Carmilla was.

Shorter review for this but this is both a shorter and an older book. I’m not going to have anything that ground breaking to say, just that I was nicely surprised with the level of hinting about these young women being not gal pals and the genuinely unsettling feel of it all. I would recommend for vampire book fans, there’s a whole Wikipedia section dedicated to where Dracula and Carmilla compare which is kind of fun as well. Basically it’s gayer, creepier and shorter than Dracula so make your own mind which you want to read first. Thanks for checking in guys! Happy reading!

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