The Vampire’s Gaze

A Review of Nancy Kilpatrick’s Berserker in Vampyric Variations(Edge, forthcoming 2012)

Photo of cover provided by Nancy Kilpatrick

Nancy Kilpatrick never makes things easy for her reader or provide them with simple answers. Her creative gift is to teach through her writing and open up questions, complicating the potential answers to remind you that answers themselves are too simple and impossible – answers are the main fantasy in her works.

In the short story Berserker, Kilpatrick uses the second person to put you in the position of Dracula himself. It transposes the familiarity of your own body as the reader with the foreignness and otherness that she inscribes on you through the narrative voice – by calling Dracula “you”. Her voice in the narrative insists that you are both human and not human, just as the vampire itself is a figure that straddles the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between familiar and strange. She evokes in her reader an intense interest and insight into Dracula’s mental and psychological state. Her narrative voice inserts his voice into your mind like a voice on the shadows of your consciousness whispering thoughts into your head.

From this othered normalcy that she creates, Nancy Kilpatrick is able to help the reader to both see and also question their own modernity, their assumptions, their beliefs. She critiques modernity for the need to “know” something by putting it into a category, controlling it. She reminds the reader that this need to control or believe in the illusion of control is born out of fear of things that don’t make sense, things that defy easy categories.

But even when critiquing control and ideas about control of the self and other, Kilpatrick doesn’t make “control” an easily definable thing. There is no real escape from control and no simple solution that suggest ‘this is it, now get yourself out of it.’ She portrays Dracula’s encounter with Victorian notions of femininity and the stern and strict controls that are placed on Victorian women. Dracula asserts his vampiric powers over the Victorian woman, seeing his own wild ‘control’ as an escape from social suppression. However, the vampiric does not release women from control, only from social convention. It is not freedom, but another set of chains. Nancy Kilpatrick complicates the very notion of control itself and asks her readers if we are ever really free.

Home is a key feature in this narrative. Playing on the idea that the vampire must sleep in his or her own home soil, Kilpatrick creates a vampire who is stranded between his heart’s home that was formative in his creation, his Transylvania, and his new home of England, a controlled place that lacks the wild beauty of his native soil. The land itself is infused with blood and bloodlines, it shapes her characters, pumping itself through their veins. We are all formed by notions of home – it creates us, shapes us, and we will always lay in our own earth, even if we bring it with us riding on our emotions and soul.

But even home is unstable and when you go to a new place and taste of their blood, it flows through you.

Kilpatrick’s Dracula is disgusted at the ecological damage being done around him by science’s assertion of its own control, and she proposes that perhaps the only thing that can speak for nature is the most unnatural of creatures. By using the vampire’s gaze, the immortal gaze, she reminds the reader that nature cannot be understood or fully grasped by short-term goals – nature is ancient and requires a longer observation. Our technological progress only sees short term, immediate goals and ignores the long-term effects, but the vampire has seen ages of change and knows about the impermanency of human life and the persistence of nature. She reminds us that “The mortals have much to learn from what they deem inferior life forms.”

You can explore more about Ms. Kilpatrick and her current work on her website http://www.sff.net/people/nancyk/ . Check out Vampyric Variations on the Edge website http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/vampyricvariations/vv-catalog.html

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