George R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream – Terrific, but is it literature?

September 19, 2015

fevre-dream-george-r-r-martinI’ve spent more than a solid day of my life already watching GAME OF THRONES till I’m up to date. Fabulous settings, great dialogue, some marvellous characters. Strong set-pieces too: the George R R Martin Fevre dreame zombie attack in the last series was powerfully sustained.

I picked up the first book in the series in a bookstore, read a page, put it down. I wasn’t gripped, and was doubtful of committing hours of reading time. So Fevre Dream is the first George R.R. Martin I’ve read.

It’s terrific. Set along the Mississippi in the mid-19th century, you won’t find a better novel about steamboat life. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better novel. The captain and steamboat owner Abner Marsh is a fully rounded character in every way – fat, warty, splendidly human, beset by the world yet passionately loyal.

And of course, the book is about vampires. They come as two factions (like Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred) with their own life and death issues and moral quandaries.

In some ways it’s obviously a genre book – horror/vampire. In all ways it’s real literature. Splendid research, true sense of location, full developed characters, clear and well wrought description, ace dialogue, and a plot line that leads you beyond the obvious with a moving conclusion. And if you choose to go deeper, plenty to reflect on on the human condition, the nature of evil, the sustenance of friendship.

For me, it’s in a class with an all-time favourite, Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. As worthy of regard as Tim Gautreaux’s excellent historical Louisiana novel The Clearing.

I’ve just written my own vampire novel, which makes me a particularly competitive reader. There are a fair few vampire novels out there. I read them, appreciate them, and find reasons to trumpet my own. In the spirit of Fevre Dream, however, I have to accept one thing of George R.R. Martin – he’s the bloodmaster.

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