Review: Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Laura and her father live a quiet life in their remote castle in the dense forests Styria.  It is a solitary existence for young Laura, who has no companionship except for her governess and the occasional visits of neighbouring gentry.  Into this lonely life comes the mysterious house guest, Carmilla.

Slowly Laura falls under Carmilla’s spell.  Whilst she is both attracted and repulsed by Carmilla, she seems unable to find the energy to resist her.

A spate of sudden wasting deaths afflict the peasants in the countryside around the castle and Laura herself falls ill.  Will they manage to work out the cause of her illness in time or will she just be the latest victim of the vampire Carmilla?

Being an old school vampire fan for pretty much most of my life now, I have been wanting to get my hands on a copy of Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu for years. You know how it goes though, some other read always comes up, your mood changes, or something in life goes on to distract you from reading what you have intended to read in the first place.

It wasn’t until I came across the GLBT mini challenge for October which was to read a classic with a GLBT theme or author that Carmilla popped into my head again and I bought it straight away.

It’s one of those novellas you could easily read in a sitting if you’re an average to fast reader. If you’re a fast reader it would probably be an hour. There are novellas out there that take more time to read given their language and heavy content, but I didn’t find it so with Carmilla even though this story was published  in the 1870’s.

I really enjoyed how it was written. The main character is a young girl, Laura, and the story is written in such a way it’s as if Laura is truly telling the tale to you. I found Laura to be a very relatable character and the ease with which Le Fanu seems to impress certain emotions and descriptions is great.

Laura lives with her father in a degree of social isolation. Yes they have ladies down the road, the nurses to talk to, and other people around the house, but there isn’t really anyone else and there definitely isn’t anyone around Laura’s age. Until Carmilla shows up of course and then naturally she becomes so excited to have someone around her own age that she could possibly relate to that you can grasp her desperation and excitement. That’s what I mean by the author’s writing; he writes in such a way it leaps out at you, draws you in, and truly paints a picture.

I did question for awhile if Fanu was living out some sort of straight male fantasy until I got to the end and decided that would be a little too sordid. I didn’t want to attach that sordid tag onto a story which I’m very impressed by. It was a good plot, albeit predictable, but it is really a read for the descriptions and the underlying sinister nature of Carmilla.

One side note: If you’ve watched one of the movies adapted or based on the story (there are many), but have decided not to read the novel because of it, I recommend giving the novel a shot because a lot of the movies take some serious liberties.

  • Demographic: Adult fiction, but definitely can be read by young adults (just not too young)
  • Genre: Classic Literature, Vampire Fiction
  • Reminds Me Of: I’m tempted to say Dracula, but this story came out two decades beforehand and it does not involve religion.
  • Rating Out of Five: 5
  • Challenges: GLBT Mini Challenge, R.I.P. V Challenge

One thought on “Review: Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

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