Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Fall

I wouldn't want you to think I detested New York, but I have realised I'd be quite happy if almost everyone who lived there got mauled to death by flesh eating zombies. Not just any flesh eating zombies though, ones with literary merit. I hope that gives some succour to any Brooklynite, to know they're being torn limb from limb by a ravening beast that's been described with a minimum of cliche. Thus while there are lots of books about the zombiepocalypse I doubt I'll ever read, I keep returning to Colson Whitehead's Zone One.

Vampires, on the other hand, I hold no truck with. If I were to attempt amateur psychoanalysis, it would be obvious that I'm fascinated by death and scared of sex, hence my choice of monster. But I'm not, because that would be utter piffle. Vampires are lame because they're the Robert Pattison crowd, revenant Hugh Grants moodily haunting schoolgirls (or stalking reanimated transexual hookers on Rodeo Drive - have I stretched this metaphor to breaking point yet?)And so they just look too nice, too damn sparkly to be meaningful horrors.

Del Toro tries to make his vampires hideous, nosferatu in need of worming tablets, but he still injected a Marilyn Manson looky-likey into The Strain trilogy - to get The Youf interested? Who knows?

The Fall, the second volume of the trilogy is an improvement on the first - not only because of eliminating all those parenthetical asides (that really broke up the flow). There's more detail about each character, even though it still feels like somebody piut Nazis, vampires and Urban Terror into a blender without much thought. However, as before the action scenes are all a bit one-note, to the point of being yawnsome, and lots of details seem half-thought out - blind children vampires! Why, exactly? (Well, you have to have some loose ends for the conclusion of the series, don't you?)

This evening I had it put to me that del Toro is good precisely because he mashes these things together, but I think what works well in the cinema can fail to resonate on the page. Too often it's just pandering to fanboys, those strange perpetual adolescents who thought that Watchmen was the greatest artistic achievement of the 20th century (and then perversely didn't like the film). Pandering's not such a bad thing, as long as you're the one being panderered to.

Again, it's unclear if del Toro has a clear angle of attack. Are the vampires evil because they're neo-conservatives, with their own private medicine, private military contractors and disdain for the masses? Or should we be more worried about the clumsiness of government, or the foolishness of relying on public transport in a time of crisis? Are those rich people just going to suck us dry?

Actually, the vampires aren't so much neo-cons as WASPs. I'm not getting hysterical about insects here, it's more that they detest Jews, women and Mexicans, and then find their own comfortable order overthrown by somebody nominally of their own class.

Am I then suggesting del Toro has written a biting satire? Or was that just a cheap pun I couldn't resist?

One last thing before dehydration and fatigue overtake me: del Toro plus his mate need to employ a fact checker. It's all very well having a vampire plague descend on the world's major cities, bit as any seasoned traveller knows, if you put a 747 full of the undead at Narita, the buggers will never make it to Tokyo. It's not just the mercilessly efficient immigration officers, with their white gloves and their laminated photographs of banned things they insist you look at. No, it's the Narita 'Express', which takes so long to get into town that all the vampires will be melted by the sun long before they can get to Shinjuku. Next time round, make sure you go via Haneda.


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