Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mrs. Dalloway, not a Vampire

I spent the weekend reading two books: Riptide, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. One is a two-fisted technothriller about a doctor who joins a dangerous high-tech expedition to  uncover buried treasure on a cursed island. It is long and detailed and full of suspense, and the characters interior lives are somewhat truncated. The book has secret codes, forbidden love, emergency medicine involving axes, flooding tunnels, booby traps, radioactivity and sailing in storms. If this sounds like the kind of book you would like, you will probably like this book. I did, because I'm predictable that way.

The other book tells the story of a fifty-something woman wandering the streets of London as she plans to throw a party. That's pretty much it; she runs into other people and sometimes we follow them, and everyone thinks a lot about the past and how amazingly complicated life is, or something. It really is very good and I shouldn't mock it: it's a day in the life story. That's what these stories are. They tell a day in someone's life, and usually the point is that it's not a particularly important day, either. There will be no buried treasure. The idea behind Mrs. Dalloway is very much the aching idea in Our Town: "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute?... No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some."

I don't write anything at all like Mrs. Dalloway or Our Town. Everything I've ever written starts and ends with action and doing.  Sort of like the characters in Riptide, my characters tend to keep their deepest thoughts shoved away for other days when no one's about to set off a biological weapon or assasinate some cabinet ministers.

I try to think of what that would be like, a Mrs. Dalloway, Vampire Hunter:

The clock on the vampire's wall chimed, a reverberating sound, shrill and vibrato as it hung over the vampire's bedroom door, and Clarissa found herself annoyed, how could she be, even now when what she needed to do was step in, just a step like so many steps when she was young and wondered if ever she would feel any less deeply than she did then, and find the coffin just beyond, and rummage through her belongings, the rosewood stakes and crystal chalices of holy water that showed what she was capable of owning now, now that she had married Richard and that was the sort of thing that would be annoying, but wait no it was the clock that was annoying, why was that again?

Of course it's a gorgeous book, Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Honestly and truly. Anyway, that's what I read this weekend, in between easter egg hunts and reading to the girls.

I did an online interview this week that should be going up soon and someone asked me how much I liked various recent vampire series and I had to admit that I don't read much recent vampire material at all because I don't want to be influenced by it. The last vampire story I read all the way through was written in 1912 (and plays a heavy part in Alex Van Helsing #2.) This isn't a cardinal rule: I've skimmed and even read some recent vampire work, but if it was written since the Clinton administration and involves vampires, chances are I haven't read it. I do read old vampire stories and ghost stories and then pretty much anything else that catches my fancy-- potboilers like Riptide, lots of horror novels and thrillers, and lately more classics, as an attempt to make up for what I regard as lost time. I've started watching way less TV and replaced it with anything I should have read but didn't, hence the Woolf, and To Kill a Mockingbird and Rebecca.

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