Kim Newman: Anno Dracula
The 1992 Anno Dracula is a book that I have been long aware of, but have for some reason avoided. In the back of my mind I think it may have something to do with a series of entirely shocking cover illustrations, or perhaps that I read Drachenfels and Beasts in Velvet when I was young and associated Kim Newman too strongly with a literary franchise that I felt I had grown out of. Either way, this absolute gem of a book has escaped my notice for some years, but now it has, in a rather sexy new format replete with the equivalent of all sorts of directors commentaries and ‘making of’ features, been caught and devoured.
The book takes its premise from Bram Stokers classic, but deviates in that Van Helsing and the other worthies do not succeed in killing Dracula. Instead the Dutch doctors rotting head stands impaled upon a pike high on the walls of Buckingham Palace, now the home of a Dracula who has married Queen Victoria and started to spread vampirism like a plague throughout London and the Empire. The premise may be pulpy and daft, but the execution is brilliant. Newman’s London lurks. It is atmospheric almost to a fault, and there is rarely a scene which does not brilliantly conjure the flash of silver knives in the thick yellow fog, or the splash of blood upon soot-blackened brickwork.
Newman’s prose is usually clipped and sparse, but the short sentences are honed, tuned to perfect pitch. Whilst his dialogue does not carry the baroque weight of much of the victorian literature that it apes, it still feels right and behind the studied lines lies always a faint pitch of histrionics suppressed.
Much has already been made of Newman’s scholarship regarding this book, and also of his rampant intertextuality and corralling of Victorian figures, both historical and fictional, into this work, and there is little I can add to this so I will merely note here that it is indeed an impressive monument to the authors obvious passion for the period and his subject.
I wasn’t so much impressed with this novel as astounded that something founded on such a premise could be so entirely visceral. The pulp mixes here with the real and produces a story which feels true, yet is shot through with a dose of delerium and wrapped in an insubstantial shroud of sheer bloody madness. Reading the synopsis of the follow-up novels I am filled with the same trepidation I initially felt when looking at Anno Dracula; they sound rather ridiculous, and I fail to see how they could coalesce into coherent and entertaining novels, but if this tour de force* is anything to go by, I shall quell my negative, cynical instincts and bare my neck to the tender mercies of Vlad Tepes ascendant.
*Not a term I am given to using with any kind of regularity, but in this case, I think, most apt.