Screw it. I've been reading this book for two weeks now, and even though I love the topic (vampire folklore), and even though I've ruthlessly skipped...moreScrew it. I've been reading this book for two weeks now, and even though I love the topic (vampire folklore), and even though I've ruthlessly skipped the boring bits, I can't get through it.
It's too bad, because I wanted to like this. I enjoyed the beginning enough that I put it on our Staff Recommends wall (and pulled it down today in shame).
On the surface, what's not to like? Vampire Forensics purports to be a non-fiction history of the vampire myth, and unlike some of the more schlocky entries on that subject, bears National Geographic's seal of approval. The book starts well; the first 100 or so pages, while jumbled & hampered by weird transitions, sees the author stay mostly on topic.
But never on one topic. In those short 100 pages, Jenkins touches on Polidori, Lord Byron, Vlad Tepes, Bram Stoker, and lesser known but influential hits like Varney the Vampyre (who commits suicide via Mt. Vesuvius), and Carmilla (a female vampire with a penchant for young women). He also addresses grave-robbing, serial killers who claimed vampirism, the Victorian fear of being buried alive (Chopin's fear of it was so intense that he had his heart removed before burial), diseases ranging from rabies to tuberculosis, and how their symptoms mirrored those described of vampirism, and the revolting conditions of Victorian cemeteries.
If that paragraph left you feeling overwhelmed, I do not suggest reading this book. It's that hyperactive (and as a result, superficial). Points are brought up, then dropped; Jenkins relates anecdotes not to build a case for something, but just...because.
At first, I enjoyed the asides; they were all delightfully gooey and ewwy and contributed to the book's gothic atmosphere, for example:
"'[Percy Bysshe Shelley's:] carcass cracked open; where the skull rested on the red-hot iron bars, the brains literally seethed, bubbled, and boiled as in a cauldron, for a very long time.' When the flames subsided, there remained only ashes, some bone fragments--and Shelley's heart, somehow undamaged."
The fate of Shelley's corpse is only tangential to vampire myth--he was merely in the vacation group, along with Byron, Polidori, and Mary Shelley, that spawned both The Vampyre & Frankenstein. But I don't mind tangents, provided they're fun, and boiling, seething poet brains are.
As I went further, though, the detours became longer (all delivered in a laborious style and rounded out by rhetorical questions), until eventually Jenkins abandons his original subject. My breaking point came halfway through, when I read (consecutively) about werewolves, gruesome burial methods, and several medieval revenants/ghouls, three things which have only one thing in common: they are all NOT VAMPIRES. True, they may be related to vampires, but Jenkins doesn't tie them in convincingly. Nor are they related to each other, and Jenkins doesn't make clear why he stacked them together. It's disorienting, and not in the fun way.
Finally, as the last turd on the turd cake, this book lacks visuals. No timeline of events, no maps of the regions discussed, no photos or drawings--nada. Sigh.
Nosferatu is also appalled at the lack of visuals in this book.
Read more: Check out more reviews over at Scienceblogs (one, two); see also the website for the original National Geographic documentary.(less)