John C Adams Reviews 'A People's History of the Vampire Uprising' by Raymond A Villareal
A People's History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A Villareal (Hatchette, 2018)
This week on 'Friday Frighteners' it's my book review of 'A People's History of the Vampire Uprising' by Raymond A Villareal. This recent vampire story is presented as a postmodern novel, utilising interview transcripts, witness statements and magazine articles to tell its tale in the form of a fictional oral history.
Although the structure is complex, the premise itself is quite straightforward, leaving space for the reader to concentrate on the nuances of the documents presented as evidence. Morgues are reporting bodies disappearing as vampirism spreads across the modern day US. Gloamings, or vampires, become highly successful, which encourages non-Gloamings to see vampires as desirable. People start becoming deliberately infected in order to gain access to the privileges of the elite. It is customary in this genre for vampires to be presented as more intelligent, better educated and more sophisticated than everyday folk. In this novel, the setting apart of the vampire leads them to become targets of threats and resentment.
It is a curse to live in interesting times, and politically and socially speaking these are fast changing and challenging moments in history, where much is still uncertain about how global societies will develop during the rest of the twenty-first century. But over the centuries febrile times have produced some amazingly powerful and evocative works of fiction.
One of the things that struck me quite early in reading this novel was just how timely it was, how swiftly Villareal had identified the divisions deep in western societies and how these were tearing a line right through old consensuses. He'd written this novel and had it accepted and published by a major publishing house while the rest of us were still reeling and trying to make sense of what was happening in western society, and for that I was full of admiration. I loved that Villareal did so via the mirror of a vampire novel, using post-modern structure deftly deployed which gave it a very fresh feel. It isn't a surprise that the film rights have already been sold.
What Villareal conveys very well indeed is how difficult it is for any of us to truly occupy the 'other's' perspective, how easy it is to retreat into our comfort zones. In this novel, the vampire Gloamings are talented and super strong physically due to their virus. This singles them out for career advancement and superiority in health. They swiftly become disproportionately influential, and the rest of America struggles to process that.
The choice of structure for the novel was also interesting. Postmodernism is so well established as a literary genre that it has been seeping into popular fiction for decades. My personal favourite example of this is 'Carrie', Stephen King's first novel, where spurious expert reports sit alongside diaries, memoirs and other statements of what happened on that fateful night.
'A People's History of the Vampire Uprising' adopts a similar structure to 'Carrie': witness statements detail the emergence of the Gloamings and their rise to ascendancy in a political system that responds in complex and varied ways to their arrival.
There was none of the self-conscious deliberateness of adopting a fresh and unusual form that often marks more literary use of the postmodern form.
In many ways, the horror novel was coming home when it started using this structure. After all, the fiction of Poe and Lovecraft often used formalised statements as a vehicle to tell the tale.
I liked the strong plot and characterisation. The book was very well crafted. It was also an enjoyable read with plenty of great action. In some ways, it raises more questions than it answers and perhaps this is natural at this point in time. Its strength is rather that Villareal saw faster than most that the challenges it describes existed in modern society and divined the extent to which they matter, and then brought them centre stage in a compelling and imaginative novel that is also highly personal.
Thank you so much for reading my inaugural 'Friday Frighteners' review. Please feel free to comment below. I'd love to hear about recent vampire novels you've enjoyed and would recommend to others.
My next post will be a 'Mysteries on Monday' blogpost. I'll see you then!