Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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Review: Necroscope

I'VE been reading Brian Lumley's Necroscope, the first in a long series of novels about vampires that Lumley names the 'Wamphyri', and Harry Keogh, who is a 'necroscope', a man who talk with the dead and take on their knowledge and skills.

Lumley has great ideas, but is a really mediocre writer. The book reads like Lumley wrote it out once and never went back and edited a word. It's a 500 page novel that would have been a lot better at 300 pages. We are led through long episodes in the characters' lives that have nothing to do with the main action, aren't especially interesting, and should have been condensed to a few lines. At the same time, exciting and critically important moments are thrust on the reader without any lead-in, and feel rushed and incomplete. Large amounts of information and plot are conveyed not by the characters' direct experience, but by one character telling a story to another. Point of view is unstable, and wobbles from third person limited, to third person omniscient, and back again.

The prose is flat and lifeless, clichés are frequent, and all the characters talk alike, whether they are English schoolmasters or Romanian peasants. reene and I had an IM conversation the other day about prose style, in which I said I wanted to write 'transparent' prose, prose that didn't stand between the reader and the story. But what is transparent to one reader may be horribly obvious and clunky to another, and it turned out that Reene and I had completely different ideas about what 'transparent' prose is. I've been rethinking my ideas about transparency. Lumley's prose could be considered transparent, because it doesn't call attention to itself (unlike the highly self-conscious prose of Terry Pratchett, for example). However, this does not make the story easier for the reader to get into, but just makes the experience of reading it duller. There are no delights for the senses or for the ear, just the story and the characters plodding along, and you keep reading to find out what happens next, not because you're enjoying experience of reading, which you definitely aren't.

Which is a damned shame, because for all that he's a poor writer, Lumley has great ideas, and has developed material that should make for a cracking good novel. Necroscope weaves traditional Transylvanian vampires together with Cold War politics, the KGB, and Russian historical figures like Brezhnev and Andropov, secret agents and secret societies, teenage and coming-of-age angst, and Lumley's own unique and evocative concept of the 'necroscope'. He seems to have done a good bit of background research and to be knowledgeable about Romania and Transylvania, where much of the action takes place. His main characters, Harry Keogh and the young Russian necromancer, Dragosani, are interesting and have lots of potential. It's a shame this novel isn't better than it is, and the blame lies right on Lumley's dreary writing.

Anyone have suggestions for good vampire novels? I tried reading Rice's Interview with the Vampire a few years ago, but quit halfway through because her protagonist whined too much. Dude, you're an immortal undead spawn of darkness, deal with it. Do Rice's novels get better? Do her vampires get a life? (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)

Brian Lumley
New York, New York, 1988
ISBN: 0-812-52137-4


meaning: not, un-, fault
非行 == hikou == misdemeanor
先非 == senbi == past sin, past folly
Once a pictograph of the wings of a bird spreading apart, and meant 'to move in opposite directions'. Henshall suggests as a mnemonic: 'Wings unfold - not a fault.'
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