Monday, July 18, 2011

Hungry for More then Blood: A Review of Dracula, My Love by Syrie James

 “Dracula crossed to me then and stopped, touching my cheek with one hand as he gazed deeply into my eyes. "Mina," he said gently, "I swear to you, upon my honour: the only real wrong I have ever done your husband—and I admit it is an egregious one—is to covet the woman he loves."”

Who is this young, magnetic, handsome, fascinating man? And how could one woman fall so completely under his spell?

Mina Harker is torn between two men. Struggling to hang on to the deep, pure love she's found within her marriage to her husband, Jonathan, she is inexorably drawn into a secret, passionate affair with a charismatic but dangerous lover. This haunted and haunting creature has awakened feelings and desires within her that she has never before known, which remake her as a woman.

Although everyone she knows fears Count Dracula and is pledged to destroy him, Mina sees a side to him that the others cannot: a tender, romantic side; a man who's taken full advantage of his gift of immortality to expand his mind and talents; a man who is deeply in love, and who may not be evil after all. Soon, they are connected in a way she never thought humanly possible.

Yet to surrender is surely madness, for to be with him could end her life. It may cost Mina all she holds dear, but to make her choice she must learn everything she can about the remarkable origins and unique, sensuous powers of this man, this exquisite monster, this ... Dracula
There have been many adaptations, retellings, re-imaginings – you name it – of Dracula. Never had a classic so enamored the minds of readers, movie-goers and storytellers in general. This past year alone I have encountered:
·         Dracula, the Undead by Dacre Stoker
·         Dracula the Undead by Freda Warrington
·         Dracula, My Love by Syrie James
·         Dracula in Love by Karen Essex 

And those are just where the titles match up – there are references to Dracula in every vampire story out there, and as you know, dearest readers – there be many of those! And the Draculas of all these stories are pretty different too – they can be different for different characters at different parts of the novel, too – he’s just that kind of character. 

However, recently I have noticed a new interest for people on Mina Harker – a character who was a minor character (as far as action goes) in the original, who has for a long time been hypothesized to be more than just a convenient excuse to wage war on the Vampire. 

I have always liked Mina. I grew up with the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Winona Ryder’s depiction of her was always what I thought of when reading the stories. James turns that depiction on its head - pulling apart the tightly would Victorian woman and putting in her place, a more human version, where Mina's passions ignite fully without taking away from her character as a whole.  And this is what my review will focus on: the evolution of the character of Mina Harker in Dracula, My Love

As I said before: the character of Mina was always relegated to the background, she was mostly a victim and an angry (but totally British-style buttoned up version of Angry) one at that. She was the wife of Jonathan Harker – the unfortunate lawyer who meets Dracula first and goes slightly mad through his ordeal. She was a friend to the men, but was not particularly relevant, excepting that she was their non-Lucy. That is, they had to save her to redeem themselves for not saving her friend, Lucy. 

The beginning of the novel begins with Mina writing in her diary, explaining to the readers that this is her account of what transpired in those dark days, and informing us that she is living with her husband, Jonathan, and feels guilty because all that she transcribed for the men about their ordeal was not the whole truth. As such, this account is akin to her own confessional, and it is in this context the rest of the book is written. 

One thing I appreciated (and initially, I didn’t think I would) was the long prose and chapters dedicated to describing and understanding Mina’s relationship with Lucy and her mother, and Dracula’s early arrival in England. These chapters were bulky and weighty, but they were entertaining in a way that only dramatic irony tinged with well written sentences can achieve. I first thought this would be boring – who cares about balls, writing letters, extolling Victorian virtues and taking long walks to the coast? I certainly wanted to get into the meat of it – introduce me to this version of Dracula and let the fire and brimstone hail!

But the days spent at her seaside retreat, at first with Lucy, and then with Lucy and this mysterious Austrian – whom we all know is Dracula – were well spent. When Lucy inevitably dies, the reader feels for Mina, your heart breaks. You remember how they went to school together, and how Lucy was such a charming, precocious creature. You remember her mother and the nightmare of her health, and you feel for the characters. 

The best part of it was Mina herself – the way she noticed clues and noted odd occurrences and filed them away in that sharp journalist way of hers. It was riveting to watch her interactions with Dracula, knowing who he was and knowing she had yet to piece it together. It was brilliantly done – a macabre courtship that teased the reader into a slow acceptance of this relationship. 

When the action happens, it is also a little slow. The congregation of our human fighters shambles along, their meetings and experiences dividing them from the start. When they finally get together, they’re dismissive of Mina – insisting on her protection, and thus her exclusion from their little rag tag band of heroes. Her husband agrees with them, and it is their fatal mistake – a thing I find very poignant in the book: James makes it clear that the exclusion of Mina, the need to protect her and exclude her on their parts is eventually what destroys them. I find this take on the Dracula story to be a very unique and welcome reprieve from the usual, and I commend James for having pulled it off so artistically. 

Mina’s frustration and anger is ignited – again, in keeping with her time, in a very subdued way – and in that, James gave Mina a voice like no other author has. Mina became an intelligent woman – a double agent that knew the stakes and chose sides, that played the game as best she could and had no real regrets. 

This evolution of Mina from content to be married to intelligent and commanding is engrossing. It was hard to stop reading, and the words begged to be continued. By the time I was done with the book – and with that climactic ending, I was yearning for more. 

I highly recommend this Dracula adaptation – I enjoyed it more than nearly any other adaptation of Dracula I have read or seen, and I cannot wait to read her Nocturnal!


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