For this, the penultimate Spooky Sunday, I read Fangland by John Marks which earns the not entirely complimentary honour of being the weirdest book I’ve read this year by far. Fangland is a sort of modern retelling of Dracula which follows Evangeline Harker, an associate producer on America’s biggest news programme as she goes to set up an interview with a mysterious man rumoured to be the head of crime in Eastern Europe and disappears in Transylvania. The book then splits between Evangeline’s experiences and those of her colleagues back in America as strange things begin to happen in their offices.
SPOILER WARNING: The below review contains moderate spoilers for the plot of Fangland.
This is a weird book. I’ve already said this but it’s the strongest impression that I’m left with. It’s a really weird book. Unlike some books this weirdness doesn’t serve to make it particularly unsettling or thought provoking, instead it just makes it feel like a very confused story. Fangland isn’t quite sure what it wants to be so tries to be a bit of everything and ends up feeling like a hot mess.
At first Fangland seems as though it’s going to be a fairly straightforward retelling of Dracula with some more technological elements (in this version vampirism is spread through corrupted tapes). However, despite the presence of obvious characters analogues – Evangeline is clearly Mina, there’s also a Renfield type and a character who feels like a cross between Lucy Westenra and Van Helsing – half way through Marks seems to decide that he wants to tell his own modern vampire tale and breaks away from the formula before attempting to rejoin the story towards the end.
While there are some interesting ideas in Fangland, I particularly liked Torgu using technology to spread his plague and the aural virus slowly driving the employees of The Hour to madness there’s also a lot of weirdness that doesn’t work for me. In particular the random lesbian interlude in the middle feels forced and unnecessary as though Marks wanted to throw in an allusion to the predatory lesbian vampire archetype without considering the unfortunate implications. Especially considering one of the characters involved muses that she’s only embarking on the relationship as a response to the trauma she’s endured.
In addition Fangland is heavily entwined with the September 11th attacks, as the offices featured in the story are located next to ruins and many characters were present at the attacks. While the continued references are used to highlight increasing violence of the twenty first century they also feel aimlessly as though they’re building up to a higher meaning which never arrives. Though I wasn’t particularly bothered by this it did feel like a somewhat shallow use of one of the most recognisable tragedies of the century.
I think my main problem with the book though was that ultimately I didn’t care much for the central character of Evangeline and was much more interested in events back in New York than adventures in Transylvania. In particular the first section of the novel which is told entirely from her perspective dragged in comparison to the shorter sections flitting between the perspectives of the other The Hour employees.
In conclusion, Fangland is a book that suffers from trying to do too much. It wants to retell Dracula as well create a new kind of vampire while also musing on the state of human violence and then deliver some kind of message about remembering the atrocities of human history. The end result is a confusing mess full of half constructed themes and ideas which seem to wrestle with each other for dominance. While Marks does manage to create an unsettling atmosphere throughout the book he never seems to bring it to a suitable crescendo with the final confrontation feeling hurried and anti-climactic.
Featured Image: Cover detail from Fangland designed by Suzanne Dean.