Saturday, 30 April 2011

Poppy Z. Brite - Lost Souls

Blood, blood, blood, blood etc.
Lost Souls is the debut horror novel of Poppy Z. Brite, released in 1992; back when writing about vampires wasn’t the norm. It features five main characters:

 Steve – a stubborn, violent alcoholic, who plays guitar in the band, Lost Souls.
Ghost – best friend of Steve and vocalist for Lost Souls. Prone to visions and traits of empathy and psychic abilities.
Nothing – teenage vampire on a ‘coming of age’ quest to locate his real family – is a fan of Lost Souls.
Zillah – an androgynous, green-eyed vampire prone to cruel and insensitive acts. Connected to Nothing in certain ways, if you will.
Christian – an old-school vampire, who unlike Zillah, cannot tolerate sunlight or imbue food or alcohol.

Other characters include two more Vampires, Twig and Molochai; both childish and idiotic, along with Ann, Steve’s ex-girlfriend, Arkady Raventon, a sinister magic shop owner and Jessy, Nothing’s biological mother, devoted to the myth of the vampire.

The novel revolves around a club in Missing Mile, just outside New Orleans where kids dress in black, seeking acceptance. In step Zilliah, Twig and Molochai, who Jessy, a confused 15 year-old runaway, has been searching for. Steve and Ghost soon get drawn in and must choose whether to save a life or seek revenge, whilst further events just become more and more twisted. It’s one of those kinds of books.


Lost Souls is a blood-soaked gender-bending book that tries hard to be as transgressive as possible. Sadly, that transgression wears off after the gory introduction, unless you find florid descriptions of homosexual sex shocking. And there is a lot of man-on-man action in this book.

Being neither gay, nor inclined towards "goth" subculture, I felt that this book was a complete loss for me. The text had a workman-like quality to it that struggled to find poetry in pre-Katrina New Orleans and other settings, but managed to be perfectly serviceable in terms of moving the plot along. Mysteriously the book, and the author, seem to have a rabid fan base. Why? In the front of my library copy was a review from Amazon that stated "this book will make you cry". This book couldn't even make me cry with boredom, so why are people so passionate about it?

Perhaps it's the vampire mythos. All of the major vampire stories around in contemporary fiction have ardent fans (hello, TwiHards!) and the blood-and-guts approach taken in Lost Souls makes the book stand out. A little. I don't want to get into a long analysis of why beautiful ageless immortal rapists are so popular in fiction, as I'm just going to chalk it up as some flipside of fascination with celebrity.

(Because, really, aren't these vampires just bad-to-the-bone versions of celebrities? We're allowed to think that maybe we can be famous, so perhaps the antihero nature of vampirism appeals to the narcissistic tosser in all of us?)

It doesn't seem like there will be a shortage of tossers anytime soon, so Lost Souls will continue to draw people in with its depiction of empty, hollow sexual acts, and gory but boring deaths.


Russel Brand's thoughts on celebrity in contemporary society are worth listening to, considering his Byronic public persona is as close to the traditional literary vampire as you can get:


Oh god, where to start? Right, let’s get this out of the way straight off – I am NOT the target audience for this book. A sexually confused 15 year old, floppy haired, dresses in black Marilyn Manson fan? Shit, you’ve probably got 3 copies of this with different covers, all in hardback, plus the connecting short stories and a poster on your wall, all signed by the author - probably in blood.

I would like to kick off with some praise first; this book was actually a fairly straight forward read – the plot, such as it was, ran smoothly, the main characters well fleshed out and the descriptions, fairly explicit. However, despite it being easy to follow – I just didn’t care. With the exception of Ghost, none of the other characters (around 10+) had any redeeming qualities whatsoever. I mean, everyone likes reading about a bastard, but it’s nice if the bastard actually goes home from his day of bastardry and we find out he looks after a load of kittens; or works part time in a nursing home. For the most part, they all seem to be lost in a heady competitive world of ‘who can I fuck over the most to get what I want?’ The world itself seems completely crapshack – there seems to be little or no authority; the amount of bodies that pile up due to Zillah, Molochai, Twig and Christian’s actions barely calls a sniff from the local constabulary, save for once in the novel over the death of a young boy, which is then never mentioned again. If Barnaby had been sniffing around, you bet he would have caught them – just follow the trail of bodies – shit, even Reg Hollis would have had a chance.

I found myself hating a lot of the characters – they were pretty much all hedonistic wasters (Ghost and Steve aside, the former being a weirdo and the latter being an alcoholic rapist), even Ann, who having fallen under Zillah’s thrall, was desperate to be with him, even though halfway through the novel he fucks her then chucks her. Chicks love bastards. They all seemed completely untouchable and unfazed regarding their immoral actions, something which I suppose comes with having no soul and fangs.

Actually, I felt some compassion towards Steve, the anti-hero of the piece. Written as a complete jerkass and a rapist (of Ann), he was incredibly troubled and tortured person, who held my interest more than the flamboyant and enforced wackiness of the vampires, who were beyond tedious in their thrust-it-in-your-face homo eroticism and blood-drinking foreplay. Steve and Ghost’s relationship and bond was the only part that actually kept me going with this novel; had it centered much more on them, then perhaps I’d view the whole experience differently; then again, the book would just be a weird road-trip diary of a drunk who robs vending machines, a white-haired weirdo who can read minds and them both occasionally kissing but “totally not in a gay way, dude” (see near the end of the book, where they both share quite a tender moment together).

Also, how often is the word ‘blood’ used in this book? I’m surprised this book wasn’t printed on red paper. Beyond tedious; but I would love to see what the Stephenie Meyer fanclub would think to this.


We have a new member to book club! Stuart Adams, illustrator extraordinaire as joined our ranks and came to his first meeting the other week – hopefully we didn’t scare him off with are chaotic rambling.

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