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Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Book Review: The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker

The Lair of the White Worm is a horror novel that unsettled me perhaps as much as it did its first readers. It tells the story of Adam Salton, an Australian who moves to England to make contact with his great-uncle. His arrival coincides with the arrival of the heir of Castra Regis, Edgar Caswall, who creates problems in the neighbourhood by seeming to apply his mesmerism skills on a local farmer's granddaughter. Adam becomes involved in this due to his relationship with the poor girl's sister. However, another woman has her eye on Edgar Caswall and Arabella March has a dark secret of her own.

While I enjoyed this I'll get my gripes out of the way first. I thought the beginning of the story dragged a little as Adam learns the historical basis for the environmental oddities. While this is vital to later comprehensive it felt as though it was shoehorned in through rather uninspiring dialogue between Adam and Sir Nathaniel. In addition, I thought the story was diluted somewhat by actually utilising Caswell and Arabella points of view. For me, it would've been much more effective if we'd only heard what they were doing via the use of servants perhaps. Also, the relationship between Adam and Mimi jumped a little too much for my liking. A theme of this novel seemed to be exposition when it wasn't necessary and insufficient development when it was necessary.

However, these niggles aside, I found The Lair of the White Worm to be one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. The final scenes, gory and sickening, have to go down as one of the most graphic descriptions of gore I've ever encountered, let alone in a book first published in the early twentieth century. Stoker uses all his descriptive powers in the final pages and it more than makes up for the ambivalence I was feeling on the points mentioned above. Stick with this one if you want nightmares.

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