She’s been avoiding this classic for 20 years. Finally, it gets her, and in the dead of night, too.
I HAVE, on a number of occasions, attempted to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The first occasion was when I was a university freshman. It was one of the 10 titles from which I had to choose five to read in a semester. I avoided it for odd reasons. I might have found it too daunting and opted for Jane Austen’s instead. I was dead wrong. If I had read it, I would have enjoyed it immensely. The bleak Midwestern American winter of my student days would have been the best setting for a book equally dreary.
The other occasion occurred when I was in a used bookstore in London. The Penguin classic version stood out from the rest of the books because it seemed immaculately new, as if the store owner had mistakenly placed a newbie among the old, as if the newbie, like a teenage orphan, had suddenly been abandoned by his adopted parents.
The book’s sleek cover made it a striking bargain so anyone would’ve have snatched it up. Who wouldn’t? But not me. I averted my eyes. Again, for some odd reason, the name Bram Stoker gave me an eerie feeling. Instead, I bought Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains Of The Day, a much worn copy that carried the smells of its many past owners. And yet ... the miserably misty English weather would have been most appropriate for Dracula, which is set in Romanian Transylvania and London.
There have been many other opportunities in my life to read Stoker’s Dracula. I let them all slip by, blaming it on the humid tropical weather when I got back home to Kuala Lumpur.
The surreal feeling of Count Dracula showing up any time was simply dissipated by the scorching sun. Dracula would have nowhere to hide in our kind of weather, where each ray, when it catches you, scathes. The unsettling feeling a vampire should engender would not be possible, and the thought of romancing a vampire as gracious as Count Dracula would be rendered bizarre. So I could only shelve the book each time I saw it.
Then came autumn in my new home Down Under. The schizophrenic weather brings thunder, rain, mist, chilly frost and heat intermittently if not all at once.
At chilling dawn when my body is awake but my mind wishes to laze in bed, I yearn for a book that suits the mood. Anything scientifically horrifying will not do, as the grey of the sombre morning calls for disquiet.
And when the sun sinks so very quickly amidst the coolness that so swiftly turns into a chill, I long for excitement, the sort that chases away mundaneness of routines to bring about a little intrigue that tickles and thrills.
I was standing, one misty Thursday evening, doing dishes in front of the window. As I gazed out at the neatly lined up bamboo in our garden, the thought of a vampire came to mind. As the image – tall in his red cloak and with scarlet lips and fangs stained with blood – continued to build in my mind, I thought of Stoker’s Dracula.
I had to have it.
So, that night, being the only night of the week when shops close at 9pm instead of 5pm, I drove 15km out to a promising bookstore that boasts a wide selection of Penguin Classics. On the shelf it looked smashing and wicked, smiling triumphantly at my defeat – having resisted for more than 20 years, I finally surrender to its charm (better elucidated by the grim darkness that accompanied me on my evening trip out to the bookstore.
On the way back home, was not a single ray of light, though there were occasional jagged lines of lightning piercing the moonless sky. That dark backdrop exacerbated my desire to thumb through the book, which sat quietly and disquietingly on the passenger seat.
I rushed home, sent the kids the beds and savaged the first two chapters.
The book is a veritable beauty. Each word blazes with a sort of demoniac fury. Stoker is brutish. He couldn’t care less about smoothing over adversity. In fact, catastrophe is deliberately obvious right in the beginning, and he dares us to read on to witness it. His descriptions are voluptuous; they arouse the senses sensually. Yes, sensually. The first draw of blood is not gory but sensual, as Stoker calls it – the kiss.
I was hooked as anyone would. The rain pattered on and thunder struck unexpectedly, rattling the house.
There was a shuffling and trotting of light feet in the hallway, and I shivered. The door knob of my bedroom door turned ... and my daughter emerged, her silhouette stretched unnervingly long by the night light behind her.
“I had a nightmare, mummy,” she whispered softly, climbing into bed. “A vampire was about to kiss me.”
I hurled the book into the en suite and hugged her instantly. The danger of being practically telepathic with your little child when you’re reading something as bloodcurdling as Stoker’s Dracula cannot be discounted.
Still, I wish I had read it earlier.
> Abby Wong is currently reading the book she had avoided for two decades very slowly, savouring it, feasting on every description, and shivering with excitement.