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Five Vampire Novels With No Kissing

I like a vampire/werewolf love triangle as much as the next reader. But sometimes you want your vampires to embrace their predatory nature without having to be a metaphor for adolescent sexuality. Vampires help us to face up to the things we prefer not to think about. 

Twilight, in a culture fixated on youth and beauty, forces us to see that a fixation on youth and beauty is a bit sterile. If you can’t age, you can’t grow. You can’t give way to a new generation who might correct your mistakes. But if you take the youth and beauty out of a vampire story, different fears can come to the fore. Some vampire stories ask us to think about how history haunts us. Others give us a chance to see ourselves as animals, who reproduce and die. 

At a time when we’re beginning to feel the environmental consequences of living like we’re the only important species on the planet, vampires can help us to imagine how it might feel to be a little lower down the food chain. So here are five books featuring vampires you wouldn’t want to go to the movies with.

Vampire Tapestry

Let’s imagine, just hypothetically, that an animal has evolved to drink human blood. Most predators hunt under camouflage, so this particular animal would probably look, at least superficially, like a human being. Fangs would be incompatible with its camouflage, so this animal might extract blood through a needle-like protrusion under its tongue. Hypothetically.

That’s according to Dr Edward Weyland, an anthropologist at the Cayslin Center for the Study of Man. His study of sleep habits requires him to spend a lot of time in a lab with sleeping subjects...

Suzy McKee Charnas is an award-winning writer of feminist science fiction, and her Dr Weyland is a portrait of a powerful older man whose nature, as he understands it, is to exploit and violate people. But The Vampire Tapestry is a sympathetic and melancholy imagining of such an existence. It invites us to share the loneliness of the predator, and also shows us a glimpse of humanity as seen from outside.

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Dracula's Guest

Dracula is so famous (and so good) that other vampire stories from the nineteenth century and earlier tend to be forgotten. That’s a shame, and so it’s a pleasure to meet the specimens Michael Sims has resurrected for this anthology. Here you will find the ‘true’ accounts of vampire activity that inspired the first fictional vampires, a Victorian traveller’s notes on the strange superstitions of Transylvanian peasants, and an unpublished chapter of Bram Stoker’s classic novel.

But the highlights are the other vampire stories from all over the world: America, Germany, even Japan. My personal favourite is ‘The Horla,’ by syphilitic French genius Guy de Maupassant. His vampire is an invisible, possibly extra-terrestrial (but also possibly Brazilian) entity that influences people’s thoughts and drinks not blood but water.

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The Historian

A vampire is someone from the past who refuses to stay there, and lots of vampire stories are about a history—national or personal—that invades the present.

Kostova, an American writer with roots in Eastern Europe, was inspired to write her debut novel by stories her father told her as a child. The Historian spans three generations and as many continents as its narrator investigates mysterious darknesses in her family’s past, and the notorious darknesses of Eastern European history.

Like Dracula, Kostova’s novel is told through letters and other documents left by the story’s characters. The unnamed narrator believes fiercely in the power of research and scholarship to make sense of the past and to contain it—but the story’s prime Historian is Dracula himself.

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Vampires, Burial, and Death

Vampires are not, in fact, pale and drawn. Nor are they gorgeous and sparkly. They’re extremely fat and red in the face, and if they’re after you they’ll knock on the door.

Barber’s study of vampire folklore is both meticulous and gripping, witty and horrifying. It asks you to imagine how difficult it was to dig a deep grave in cold ground without heavy machinery. It explains with morbid candour exactly what happens to a corpse if its grave isn’t deep enough. And it unearths the stories ancient Europeans told to explain what they saw next.

You are left with a profound sense of how different our ancestors’ lives were from ours, but also a feeling of connection to them. You might even start to feel that it’s a little strange how modern humans have pushed death and decomposition entirely out of sight.

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Necroscope

If you can’t decide whether to pick up a vampire novel or a spy thriller next, this one’s for you.

Harry Keogh is a decent English chap who can talk to the dead. The dead are quite sweet, for the most part, and lonely. But it’s the height of the Cold War, and so Harry is recruited to deploy his powers on behalf of British intelligence, and not a moment too soon, because in Romania a KGB Necromancer, Boris Dragosani, has found the resting place of a powerful and malevolent vampire.

It’s every bit as exciting and bonkers as it sounds, but it’s also genuinely unsettling. Harry’s departed helpers remind him—and us—that we owe it to past generations of humans to ensure that there will be future generations. It’s a message whose time might have come round again.

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I'm a copywriter based in Dublin. Bookwitting about literary fiction, mostly.