Importance of names —
Most appellations appear to displease them; they would prefer not to be discussed at all, I believe. The expression "un-dead" is often considered distasteful. (I use it privately here, but would never utter it aloud in the club.) "Revenant" will do at a pinch, though the connotations of burial and return are a little indelicate. I asked Verner what name he preferred. He said that I was considering the question from the wrong angle. "We don't need words for ourselves," he said. "It's the living we're always watching out for."
"What do you call us, then?" I asked.
He said that there were few names he would care to repeat — the kindest being "bleaters." "Blood bag" is another. A buxom human female, in low circles, might be termed a "claret jug." He added that amongst those with better manners, the most widespread term for us is "the Quick."
Then he smiled — an effort made solely to discompose me. "Not always quick enough, of course."
Lauren Owen's The Quick is a vampire novel. Why this should be a secret is beyond me. But I'm betting that:
1. If you've heard at all about The Quick through the usual internetted ways, then you already know there are vampires.
2. Readers of this blog would be more inclined to pick up this novel knowing it's actually a vampire novel, not just a romance steeped in Victorian gothic atmosphere.
(Quite frankly, while the jacket copy about secret societies intrigued me, it wasn't enough to get me to read this book. It's the vampires that grabbed me; I agreed to a review copy only after I'd heard about this twist.)
It's a hefty book, but action-packed and with interesting characters, so it's quick to read.
It's positively dripping with Victorian gothic atmosphere. It reminds me of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange (though I can't recall the details of that book, the mood stays with me) and Diane Setterfield's Bellman & Black (which I loved for how it let the reader hover in uncertainty). The most obvious reference would of course be Bram Stoker's Dracula, but at the time of the events told in The Quick it was not yet written.
Owen's creatures fit nicely into the vampire tradition, building on fundamental notions we have, primarily via Dracula, but with a few qualities invented or borrowed from elsewhere. These vampires have not been reinvented into something unrecognizable; they are updated classic, and they are scary.
And as in Dracula, those affected by the creatures take up a scientific exploration of their nature, so fact and myths are affirmed and dispelled for the reader as they are learned by the characters. In both books we see the investigators turning to medical and technological innovations (even if to establish a scientific basis in folkloric remedies) to aid them in defeating, or curing, the monster. Certainly typewriters will record their accumulated knowledge for posterity.
Owen discussed some the themes in her novel in an interview with The Bookseller:
"In modern representations of the vampire, the vampire is a metaphor for sex and romantic relationships, but in earlier depictions of the vampire there is more leeway into folklore," Owen says. "There's the idea of the vampire coming back to his family and sickening them and the rest of the village with his attacks, so that was part of the choice.
"I think family relationships are very interesting; the idea of what you tell the people who are closest to you and what you don't tell them — or what you're able to tell them, and whether or not being able to tell them everything about yourself means that your love for your family is not complete."
The vampire as metaphor for sex is already firmly established in Dracula, and it's nice to see this fiction stretch a little further back into the lore. Owen explores a lot of different family relationships in this novel, which puts some store in the saying that blood is thicker than water. Vampires would live by that too.