I should start by first admitting that I, a fanboy, have already written an article on this particular work here (though perhaps read after the book).
However, I wanted to start a real review repertoire that will help others make a more informed choice, rather than just me waxing over my favourite bits.
So let’s begin.
Published in 1871-72, Carmilla a Gothic fiction piece set in the picturesque Austrian state of Styria, and as often within the genre, generally takes place in an isolated abode; in this case, a castle set within the wilderness.
The story is presented to us from the point of view of Laura, who is telling us of the tale and all that happened.
What happens in Carmilla is a great mix of suspense, wonderment and the supernatural – bound altogether in the way only Gothic fiction can.
Laura and her father receive, unceremoniously, a new guest into their midst as circumstances require.
Carmilla, as she is known, befriends Laura, and we read of their relationship over time, ranging from the innocent desire for companionship, to a peculiar attraction that tempts the erotic.
A dark and twisted past eventually comes to light, and Laura continues to take us on the journey that almost took her beyond death’s door.
The style of the writing strongly invokes the sense of being there, gifting you with an understanding of the moment. Le Fanu crafts a real sense of living in an isolated home, beset with grandeur and yet loneliness.
Nothing can be more picturesque or solitary…
This helps bring to life the relationship between Carmilla and Laura, which in turn allows the plot to follow through. Just as emotion can be a rollercoaster, it provides movement that kept me wanting to carry on.
I felt that the character of Laura was captured very well, and is personable and relatable:
My mother, a Styrian lady, died in my infancy, but I had a good-natured governess, who had been with me from, I might almost say, my infancy. I could not remember the time when her fat, benignant face was not a familiar picture in my memory.
There is also a beautiful sense of calmness to it all…written in a way that slows you down, so that you have to really live with the moment. Either beautiful or nightmarish.
Carmilla revolves primarily around Laura and Carmilla. There are others who are involved, voluntarily or not, such as her father and, later on, those come to assist with the grave situation they ultimately find themselves in.
I found all of the characters to be, well, of character. This is a book written in a time when this was important; your prestige and reputation being of paramount importance, and the characters within exude this. They often perceive each other in this way, and Le Fanu provides very good descriptions.
She was what is called a fine looking woman for her time of life, and must have been handsome; she was tall, but not thin, and dressed in black velvet, and looked rather pale, but with a proud and commanding countenance, though now agitated strangely.
Laura’s perspective greatly assists the reader in living the story. It is told with a very believable skill and one that I enjoyed.
For Carmilla, even I wanted to meet her, such is the compelling character she is in possession of. I had a great sense of her energy and personality, and had no issue with envisaging this within my mind during reading.
I won’t address the others, for their role is not as pronounced, and they fit in fine without requiring too much attention.
Carmilla is a book I know I will always read again.
I love the language and style, for one, as well as the simple concept that is rendered into something a lot more complex.
The air of the supernatural is well invoked and there was one moment which actually managed to spook me, something that isn’t easy to do with just words.
Would I change anything? I don’t think so…the story isn’t too long and it works that way. Would it be great to see something longer? Sure, but that would be a different ball game – the pace of the writing fits the length.
Did I dislike anything? Not really, sometimes I had to pause on a paragraph and re-read, but writing was different back then.
Given the age of it, you can also easily read this at no cost. Though I would certainly recommend spending the undoubtedly small amount on a physical copy.
Perhaps gift it to a friend so the Gothic style can be rediscovered, and if you like old suspense and a dark mystery, definitely check it out.
Let me know your thoughts on the review as well, that way I can make better ones in the future!