Book review: The delicate dependency by Michael Talbot
I am always wary when I pick up a book that has ‘cult like’ status because I know my expectations are already heightened. As such, I have felt unduly disappointed with a book I felt ‘sure’ was going to be a treasure. Well, to start with, I am not sure why The delicate dependency has a ‘cult like’ status. Why doesn’t have the full rock star status of other world-class novels in this genre? This is easily one of the best vampire novels ever written.
Talbot’s writing is beautiful. The Victorian era is accurately and seamlessly captured and the gothic atmosphere permeates every page. Dialogue in the Victorian era can seem cumbersome however; Talbot manages to make it crisp and easy to read.
It dawned on me that the Victorian era is perhaps the perfect setting for a vampire novel. The standard vampire mythos is a contradiction. The typical vampire is both a bloodthirsty, sexual beast and also, a culturally refined, elegant, sensual, and intelligent member of society. The Victorian era was an era of very strict social norms, so strict that culture itself sought escape in the form of romanticism and mysticism. Similarly, scientific development was was steaming ahead and with it came cultural changes in terms of class and consumerism. The world was at once culturally restricted, and also emancipated in terms of beauty and science. The Victorian era holds a tension that echoes the tension of the vampire. The vampire has a need to fit within social convention and to move among the populace, even if it is just to hunt effectively. However, the vampire also has a need to feed and to seduce, to let the beast out and break free of social conventions, conventions that must feel so limiting to an otherworldly being. So, I can only hazard a guess that Talbot chose the Victorian era very carefully.
The plot of The Delicate Dependency is masterful, so much so that I know I will have to read it again to pick up the many threads I missed. There are themes of existential reflection that I did not get a chance to dwell on because of the page-turning nature of the plot. (These themes make sense when reading over the history of the author.) Throughout the novel there are numerous unexpected twists and turns and a constant sense of haunting suspense and subtle horror. The horror is rarely made explicit which makes it all the more terrifying.
Another exquisite aspect of this novel is how it captures the sensuality, passion, romance, and melancholia of the vampire mythos without having an explicit romance between a vampire and human. However, it may be argued that there is a romantic ‘dance’ of sorts between the protagonist, Dr. Gladstone, and the vampires. But this is never consummated.
Talbot uses an interesting technique of introducing us to the themes of the mysterious but ultimately doomed human-vampire relationship at the beginning of the book through writing about the romance between Dr. Gladstone and his wife; Camille – a dark mystery herself. Although neither Dr. Gladstone or Camille are vampires, there is something in the haunting nature of their relationship that is perhaps the very definition of duende. Duende is a concept very closely linked with the vampire mythos.
Finally, the character development in The delicate dependency is well rounded and complex. After finishing the novel I still had questions regarding each of the characters and some of their choices, but these questions are the normal questions that I find myself asking of any multifaceted person or character. I suspect the author intended his audience to go away and consider some of the troubling questions raised by both the plot and the characters. Further more, none of the characters are either all good or all bad. As such I was able to develop a relationship with each of them and was invested in their journeys despite the questions I was left with at the end.
My only noteworthy criticism is that the singular ambience of the novel. As stated earlier, the gothic permeates every page that in some ways is perfect for a vampire novel however, there were times I felt the monotonous grey-darkness suffocating.
The delicate dependency is a wonderful and innovative exploration of the gritty realities of what it would mean to be an immortal vampire living among humans. However, this tale is told without removing the romance and beauty that comes with the vampire mythos. It was a thrilling read that at times washed over me like poetry. I know I will be hunting down a first edition, hardcopy of this book for my shelves to read time and time again.