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Rosedale the Vampyre by Lev Raphael

When someone sits down to write fiction, there will be a number of conflicting impulses. There’s the natural desire to create a work of which the author can be proud. Yet that may be in conflict with the dictates of the market. Obviously the content that interests the author may not be in the slightest interesting to the mass of people. Compromises may therefore have to be made unless, of course, the author has the natural capacity to hit the market with what it wants to read. Then there comes the writing style. Something too literary may be off-putting to Joe the Plumber. Something written in English accessible to people with a reading age of twelve may not be capable of conveying the subtleties of meaning the author wishes to communicate. So where are we with Rosedale the Vampyre by Lev Raphael (Amazon: Kindle store)?

Well, as the title suggests, we’re in the land of the vampyre (note the old-school spelling approved by John Polidori). And in the use of the “classical” spelling we come to the first of the authorial decisions for discussion. This is set in the New York of 1907 and written in a style that approximates fiction of that era. Frankly, I’m never sure what purpose is served by writing in anything other than a contemporary style. There seems to be a fashion for science fiction, fantasy and horror to be offered for sale as if written by Jane Austin and other period luminaries. I see no added value in this affectation. This does not deny the possibility of additional entertainment from a frame story in which our hero discovers a long-lost manuscript. The dissonant juxtaposition of modern and period writing styles is often part of the fun. But this novella comes straight out of the starting blocks as if a hundred yard dash written around 1907 by Edith Wharton. There’s no frame and nothing to justify or explain why the story is being presented in mannered English. This is not denying that the writer has been reasonably successful in the craft of recreating an old style, but it’s an odd decision.

Then we come to story itself. Those of you who have an interest in older works of fiction may well recall that Edith Wharton is probably best known for The House of Mirth. It catalogues the social decline of Lily Bart and also comments on the fate of Simon Rosedale, the “little Jew” who’s consigned to the social oubliette without a trial yet contrives to do rather well on Wall Street when the monied class loses out in the crash of conventional stocks. Read today, Wharton’s novel is a particularly overt example of the instinctive antisemitism that has informed the social reaction to Jews over the centuries. This novella produces a potentially ironic racism in which our hero, having been bitten but not consumed, transforms into a vampire that’s superior to the standard Caucasian model. Whereas the weak gentile version succumbs to daylight and can be blighted by crosses and the sprinkling of Holy Water, the Jewish version is unaffected by sunlight and untouched by the use of Christian paraphernalia.

The plot details the process of transformation as humanity is shrugged off in favour of the more powerful vampire model. This is not a moral decline. Rosedale has been frequenting the bordellos of New York in a vain attempt to overcome the grief occasioned by the death of his wife. During the transformation, he continues to service the same prostitute but becomes a better lover. The heightening of his senses enables him to give the woman greater pleasure. It’s rather curious a predator in the making should become more giving in the bedroom. Equally inexplicable is the decision of the other vampyre to preserve Rosedale’s existence when it would have been so easy to allow him to die. Indeed, given the pervasive animosity, you might have imagined Rosedale’s Jewish heritage might have hastened his permanent demise rather than elevated him to the top of the food chain predators.

Taken overall, Rosedale the Vampyre is a clever way of exploring the process of physical transformation alongside the social and commercial choices made as grief is transformed into a more proactive view of the world. Should he continue the story, I would be interested to see where Lev Raphael takes it but, at some point, I’m going to grow tired of the period writing style. I’m not convinced this use of past racism is contributing constructively to the modern discourse on attitudes between different racial groups. That said, this is a mildly erotic and potentially provocative novella describing the elevation of a downtrodden Jewish “millionaire” into a cautiously self-confident bloodsucker. I was intrigued.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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