Book Review

fledging by Octavia E. Butler

vampires yes please and too long sentences

I don’t feel like I can be arsed to do this any more.

Tbh, I feel like that about everything.

The only thing that stopped me from plunging the iron onto the back of my left hand earlier was thinking about the time I’d have to spend, bored, in hospital as I was treated for the burn.

I’d quite like a massive festering injury, but I don’t want to spend any more time than I already am hanging out in fucking medical offices, they’re not fun places to be.

Though, I suppose, if I was on a burns ward I wouldn’t have to talk about how much I need to be constantly distracted to not just be craving craving craving craving a cessation of all thought and feeling, but then again the fact that I wouldn’t bother lying about the circumstances of my beautiful crimson burn would mean that they’d probably transfer me pretty fast to a psychiatric ward where I would have to be introspective and probably also detained overnight as a risk to myself. Boo. I don’t have the time to waste.

I probably shouldn’t be writing about these things and posting them here, but, hey, it fills the time and it’s easier to do this than to write poems because there’s no external validation or rejection to come from this as it’s just for a site I run, which is fun, is fine, is easy: TriumphoftheNow.com is something I can control.

I haven’t had any paid writing work for about nine months.

I’m incredibly cold. I’m incredibly bored.

Anyway.

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Regular readers of this blog will be pleased to know that several days have passed since I wrote the above and I am now no closer to quitting this site than I ever have been, so there’s some good news (or bad news!) for everyone!

Also I’ve just had therapy and a big fat coffee and so I’m both tentatively more worried about myself and keen to EXHIBIT SOME FORM OF COHERENCE/FUNCTIONALITY so I’m gonna get to writing something here, on this blog, of course of course of course.

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I read a couple of Octavia E Butler books about four months ago, in quick succession after my birthday. After last week’s therapy session (which was much more intense than this week’s, mainly because that involved me realising how deep the depression goes and today’s just involved me being reminded of it) I really needed to do something to give myself pleasure, so I went to a non-secondhand bookstore and bought THREE books, like some kind of millionaire. I got another book by Waubgeshig Rice (the writer of one of my favourite reads of last year, Moon of the Crusted Snow), a Joan Didion book that wasn’t included in the compendium I read over the holidays and this: Fledgling by Octavia E Butler. Thankfully, this was wonderful.

Although there’s some very creepy paedophilic scenes at the opening when the narrator is introduced as a child-looking being and the first person she drinks the blood from is attracted to her before he discovers she’s a 53-year-old vampire and not a ten-year-old human girl, this narrative thrust seems to be forgotten as the novel goes on and it turns into a moving, exciting and engaging re-imagining of trad vamp mythology.

The narrator is the young vampire who awakes with terrible injuries, in terrible pain, with massive memory loss in a cave somewhere rural. She grabs at an animal that moves towards her and eats it almost in its entirety, gains a little strength, leaves the cave, catches and kills a couple of deer, finds the burnt remains of a small village, follows through this onto a rural road where she’s picked up by a creepy man who takes her home with the clear intent of sexual contact, despite her childlike appearance. Despite her amnesia, she realises she’s a vampire and sets out to discover what this means and what led her to lying, almost dead, in a cave.

Although some of the narrator’s hungers and needs and weaknesses are familiar to anyone who’s engaged with popular culture at any point since the 1890s, some are different. There is no magic; there are gentle, ambiguous, explanations for vampiric control of humans (intoxicants in vampiric saliva, the high of blood loss, potent pheromones) and the narrator – a vampire who can walk (with sunglasses on and skin covered) in the daylight – is able to do so because she is the product of genetic experimentation. Some human DNA has been spliced into the narrator’s, and it has darkened her skin and made her less sensitive to sunlight. This is where the real blood of the novel kicks in: Fledgling is about the inter-family feuds between different vampire groups who either approve of [and embrace] the potential daylight-beating advances that have led to the birth of our narrator, and those who seek to destroy the evidence of this experiment as an aberration that dilutes the purity of vampiric existence.

It’s fun, it’s emotive, it’s violent and thrilling and it makes pertinent and important points about colonialism, about abusive relationships and about race, though doesn’t make any points about adult male desire for an adult woman who looks like a child, which is kinda weird. Perhaps that itself is Butler’s point: maybe nothing needs to be said about the toxicities of male desire?

I enjoyed Fledgling.


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