Written January 12th
Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
This, Dodie Bellamy’s 1998 epistolary novel, is why I read. It is what I go to books for.
How The Letters of Mina Harker made me feel is how I want to feel when I read, it made me feel how I want to feel when I think about a text I’m reading and it made me feel how I want to feel when I’ve finished the text, satiated and satisfied and my mind fucking blown.
I bought this – after having almost bought it several times – in a trendy bookstore in Montreal last November, and between then and now I’ve considered reading it every single time I’ve been between books. I should have bought it sooner. I should have read it sooner. It is exactly what I look for in a book and exactly what I needed right now, halfway (I hope!) through yet another Ontario lockdown…
Mina Harker, as I’m sure you remember, is one of the characters in Bram Stoker’s notorious 1897 slasher spectacular, Dracula. In Stoker’s nineteenth century text, Mina is one of two young women (both, one imagines, incredibly attractive) who Dracula seeks to seduce into the life of vampirism. Unlike the sexier Lucy, who becomes a vampire and is staked to death by Van Helsing and his dull gang of anti-sex prudes, Mina ends the novel safe and married off to her moron boyfriend, who famously turns down no-strings fucking with multiple incredibly attractive vampires because he’s an idiot. The novel, again, I’m sure you remember, is composed of [fictional] letters and diary excerpts and other “found” texts, and – as Bellamy writes in this novel – the premise of the novel is that its collation and editing was completed by Mina Harker.
Then – according to Bellamy’s riotous novel – Mina was turned into a vampire and now, a hundred years on, is living and loving in San Francisco, sharing a body with hip poet Dodie Bellamy (have you read Cunt-Ups?).
Mina thus becomes alter ego but also rival:
Mina and Dodie are separate and distinct characters;
Dodie is a thirty something creative type, Mina is a 150(ish)-year-old hot hot vampire, and though they do not look or feel or think or live the same, they are – somehow – the same, but not the same, too. It works.
The novel is comprised of letters, written in the first person, from Mina to friends and lovers. Some of these are friends of Mina Harker’s from Dracula, but most of them are friends of Dodie Bellamy’s from the San Francisco eighties poetry scene.
The length of the letters varies, and they’re organised chronologically and cover a bit less than a decade. There is, inevitably given the time and the place, lots about the AIDS crisis (one of the regular letter recipients dies of complications from AIDS during the course of the novel), but Bellamy avoids any heavy-handed metaphor-play comparing the spread of vampirism with the spread of HIV, because The Letters of Mina Harker is not a crude, crusading anti-sex text.
The vampirism of this novel is background character building, it is not plot: Mina is far more motivated by desire for sex than desire for blood, and Bellamy’s depiction of Mina’s happy, sustainable, fulfilling open marriage still feels revolutionary 24 years on – we may like to think that society continues to “loosen up”, but fictional depictions of women (people?) able to both fuck around a lot and hold down an emotionally rewarding relationship are rare things indeed.
The text, stylistically, is stream of consciousness adjacent, and the pages are dense but they are powerfully, compellingly, paced.
Mina writes us through affairs, she writes about culture, about art and music and literature, and she writes about friendships, too; socialising and mourning and grieving and feeling.
It’s a potent and powerfully emotional text and it’s fucking gorgeous perfection and, quite honestly, I wish every book was more like this!
Thank you, Dodie Bellamy, for writing!