Andy, the agent of Diana Laurence was kind enough to offer to send me a copy of How to Catch and keep a Vampire late last year to review, upon discovering my previous vampire musings and I’ve finally got around to posting on it. First off, let me say that I plowed through this book while easily engaged and came out on the other end with a bevy of handy knowledge that I can now use to my advantage, should I happen to encounter one of the dead and presumably dreamy kind.
Here, I also have to tip my invisible hat to Ms. Laurence for taking the reader on a journey into the minds and hearts of some of her most entertaining vampire friends. With the contemporary relationship wit of say, He’s Just Not that Into You (minus copious snark), the hetereo-chick-lit insight of Bridget Jones’s Diary and the Gothic overtures of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, comes Lawrence’s text. (For the record, I do love me some chick lit and while still majorly problematic, I do think it does some valuable things well–good chick lit that is, but that is a whole other story).
Altogether this book was a very enlightening read. Provided that dates with the un-dead are your forte. A very imaginative and sometimes seemingly tongue-in-cheek but not really and that’s one of the boons of dealing with a fangtastical worldview. Where the myth and reality actually blur is almost anyone’s guess, so crafting believable allusions to reality and sustaining it inside such a book takes quite a bit of skillful creativity on the author’s part and a willingness to submit to go there on the part of the reader.
One of the most salient things that one will get from this book is that vampires at their core, have a lot in common with mortal men. This is no doubt from whence they have sprung. You can invert the crux of this in a couple of ways: that vamps are more human than not, intrinsically, or that the potential for whatever we perceive vampires to be, lies dormant (or not) within all of us. In the most fundamental of ways of course. The intersections of race, class and gender (as anyone who has read the Twilight series for example can see) do not escape vampires. Sure, vampire men may have a proclivity towards being polyamorous with their undeniable charm and the aid of the “hypnotic gaze” (7) but so do some mortal ones, albeit with considerable less ammunition. The point being that heterosexual women in pursuit of a relationship with any man, would do well to keep her wits and smarts about her, swoons be damned.
The mystique of these men for some women is examined carefully by Laurence in chapter one and she continues to go to great lengths throughout the book to attempt to separate vampire myth from reality and where the two blur is this really fascinating space that until now, so far mortals have primarily been the voice of constructing these elucidations. In Laurence’s book too, she is a literal mouth piece for a slew of vampire associates/loves and ex-loves who share some of their vast knowledge with her. Of these vampiric beings: Sven, Ethan, Mordred, Gunnar, Aidan, Adam, Conner and Colin, Colin is especially fascinating to me.
I have already touched on the absence of sustained, visible, fully actualized black vampire characters in the True Blood television series, the Buffy television series and the likes of other vampire lore, contemporary and otherwise, understandably, with some exceptions. So all things considered, I was excited to read about Colin. And he’s West Indian. Extra thrilled. In some islands within the Francophone Caribbean as well as in Trinidad and Tobago which was one time colonized by the French, there exists a local vampire myth in the form of the soucouyant or soucriant, so a contemporary rendering of a West Indian male black vampire was particularly intriguing for me to see. A female one, could be even more so.
A snippet of Colin’s life tells the reader that “he was born in Jamaica in the late 1700s, the child of African slaves on a coffee plantation, was converted when he was 26,” lived through “the Maroon War, the Baptist War and the freeing of the slaves” (71). He also worked on “a doctoral dissertation on vampires in literature at Oxford” (71) is “elegantly handsome, with the most wonderfully arched nostrils and flawless brown skin” (71). What else did I love about Colin? The fact that he’s a West Indian man that cooks well and makes homemade ice-cream. What did I not like? I only wanted to see more and know more about this West Indian vamp and maybe the author will revisit his unique tale in some other endeavor at another time. Outside of Colin, Dr. Steven Grey was another fascinating vamp to get to know through the author’s encounters. The truly bad ones are always somehow extra exciting huh?
Toward the end of the hundred and something plus odd pages, Laurence closes with an elaboration of some good practical advice for all women whether you fancy the alive or undead. That is, the caution to be able to maintain a sense of self and identity, independent of who you are romantically involved with. Pseudo liberal feminist, cosmo-magazine-style articulations tend to encourage hetero women to constantly pander to their mates’s needs, sexual and otherwise. (Sorry to call out Cosmopolitan all the time but that kind of spiel is their steady stock-in-trade).
Now, rarely in such places is this articulated alongside any particular sense of developing real independence or contextualization because if it’s only tied to the acquisition of a man—then it’s kind of counterproductive in my opinion. At the close, Laurence, despite the scope of her work, gives a nod to the frailty and ultimate awesomeness of mortality with the assertion that “when you become a vampire, that’s the sum and total of who you are. Mortals, on the other hand, have almost unlimited potential” (135).
If you don’t like vampires and you just don’t get it—then this book probably is not for you. If you don’t have a sense of humor, this book is probably also not for you. If your imagination is stilted inside the realm of only what you can only see and fathom, or have been taught to fathom, ditto for the rest above. I’m off to find myself a red ribbon to tie on tonight. You know, just to see what fun things may happen.
For more on Caribbean vampire lore: The Mayaro Soucouyant at Triniview:
Finding How to Catch and Keep a Vampire: