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The Book of Renfield: A Gospel of Dracula

By Tim Lucas
(416p.) Simon & Schuster/Touchstone. $14
(June 2005)
ISBN 0-7432-4354-4

book cover Timing can be everything. Two Dracula spin-offs were released in June. One, the hugely hyped The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, immediately shot to the top of bestseller lists. The other, The Book of Renfield: A Gospel of Dracula has yet to receive the attention it deserves. Renfield may benefit from the big book's coattails but is more likely to be overwhelmed. The novel should, of course, be judged on its own merits, which are considerable. In the original Dracula by Bram Stoker, R.M. Renfield was a madman confined to Dr. John Seward's asylum. Dr Seward deems him "a zooephagous (life-eating) maniac" who wants to absorb as many lives as he can...in a cumulative way...[he gave] flies to one spider and many spiders to one bird, and then wanted a cat to eat the many birds." Renfield is also "a sort of index to the coming and going" of the vampire. Most importantly, it is through Renfield's character that Dracula is revealed as a force of capital-E Evil. It is this theme -- and its role in the 21st century -- that inspires Lucas's literary alternative. He employs Dr. "Jack" Seward, to tell the full story of Renfield's life -- and that of Jack himself -- through "historical documents," diaries and transcriptions. Lucas's style merges almost seamlessly with Stoker's (or rather Mina Murray Harker's, as she is depicted as the real author of Dracula) and his intimate knowledge of the original novel is impeccable. Unfortunately, these admirable qualities may be lost on the mainstream reader who embraces the romantic interpretation of the vampire over its evil version. -- Paula Guran, CFQ V.37.6/7