No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, September 01, 1996

The World on Blood -- Jonathan Nasaw

"Hi, my name is Nick, and I'm a recovering vampire." Blood is the drug - it heightens one's sense of reality, and it's 'the most powerful aphrodisiac imaginable'. - and the members of VA ("What's the V stand for?" "Very." "Very Anonymous?" "Very") are following the twelve-point plan to beat their addiction. This, I should add, is California.

Nick made his money writing vampire novels; he hasn't written any fiction for twenty years, since one of his boyfriends introduced him to the Real Thing. The aristocratic, cosmopolitan and immensely rich Whistler would be quite enough for Nick to deal with. He is even more mistrustful of Selene, Whistler's closest friend, who is High Priestess of a Wiccan coven which enjoys an almost symbiotic relationship with the Californian vampire community. None of Rice's sexless eroticism for Nasaw; his vampires are more than happy to trade bodily fluids with the witches. (And yes, of course there are female vampires; The World on Blood is neither conservative nor coy when it comes to sex, as so often it does).

Back in the Seventies everything seemed so much simpler. But contemporary California is a festering pit of therapy groups, and vampirism is just another problem to recognise, confront and overcome. The members of VA are a motley crew: the abused punk girl January, Deadhead lawyer Augie, and members of enough minority groups to satisfy even the most politically-correct reader. Every week VA meet and share their experiences of living without blood. It is all most worthy.

Then two things happen; they move their meeting place to a non-denominational church (thus encountering Betty, the lonely female minister); and Bev, who works in a blood bank, brings in the latest 'suspect' - beautiful Filipina Lourdes, who's been caught stealing a bag of blood in her first week on the night shift. Lourdes pouts prettily and tells them she doesn't want to give up blood; the rest of VA inform her cheerfully that of course she does ... Fortunately, one member of the group is similarly minded, and offers Lourdes the perfect excuse for not working day shifts.

So far, so good. The second half of the novel, however, moves away from the bright, brash, subversive romp, and towards a more conventional interpretation of the Californian ideal. Vampires playing at happy families?
Assessing their relationships and motivations? It could never happen in New Orleans ...

Nasaw has some interesting variations on the vampire myth. In The World On Blood, vampirism is inherited rather than transmitted, and vampires can reproduce Blood is a drug rather than a sole means of sustenance. (On the other hand, there are very few references to food.) The blood-drinking itself is oddly sanitised; the traditional rending and tearing has been replaced, at least in everyday life, by steel syringes and brandy glasses. It's clear that Nasaw knows his subject; there's a neat little précis of the vampire myth, and the novel is scattered with genre references - Lourdes, for example, discovered the joys of blood after reading Interview with the Vampire.

Despite the bloodletting and the orgiastic sex, there's something uncomfortably cosy about The World on Blood. It'd make a great soap: the characters are constantly coming to terms with themselves, and confronting one another in a variety of social tableaux.

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