Friday, February 28, 2020

The Indian Vampire Story

A few weeks ago I read Phillip Ernest's novel The Far Himalaya and enjoyed it. That led me to read his first novel The Vetala, even though I would have said from the description it's not my kind of thing. I think it's even better, and very good indeed.

I haven't read much vampire literature--Dracula fairly recently and one Anne Rice novel years ago--and I generally steer clear of the films, so I don't particularly know, but this strikes me as fairly innovative. And even if I'm wrong, and it's not innovative in the world of vampires, I think it's still a very good story.

That story takes place mostly in India, and Nada Marjonivic, a Sanskrit scholar, is studying a seven-hundred-year-old book, the Amrutajijnasa, or the Inquiry into the Undead. Just from the translation of that title you may suspect how her investigation is going to go, and, of course, you're partly right. But there are complications.

Dr. Marjonivic has just returned to India from her European university to study what she believes is the only existing copy of the book; her elderly mentor and fellow Sanskrit scholar has just died and she will now be in charge of the study and of the manuscript itself.

Vetala is a Sanskrit word and vetalas are actual undead figures in Indian lore, though the manuscript Inquiry into the Undead is a creation for the novel. Dr. Marjonivic has experience of these Indian undead in the past; now in her mid-40s, her boyfriend twenty years before was killed by one. The Inquiry is not just an inquiry; it also indicates, though imperfectly, how to lay one to rest. The titular vetala of the novel became one at the time the Inquiry was written, and has carried on, wreaking havoc, for those seven hundred years.

I thought the novel made very good use of its Indian setting. Hindu reincarnation complicates the more familiar Western version of the vampire; an episode from the Mahabharata influences the choices the characters make; the multilingual nature of Indian society is important; the countryside, with its temples, are where the events take place.

The reader gradually comes to understand the emotional tangle that accompanies the more spectacular supernatural events.

Very enjoyable.


  1. An Indian take on vampire lore ... sounds pretty awesome to me. :)

  2. blog wars made me get a new one:

  3. Ive not read much in the way of vampire lore either, though I have read (unfortunately actually) more Ann Rice than you. This sounds more up my street, however, than The Far Himalaya that you reviewed earlier.

    1. Anne Rice was popular once upon a time & a lot of people liked her. One was enough to convince me, though, that she wasn't going to be for me.

      I do think this was a better novel than The Far Himalaya--which was interesting to me for being so local--and a better story even though vampire stories aren't my thing...

      Tournament of Books coming up, right? I'll be looking for posts!

  4. I love it when a book that didn't seem like it would be one's cuppa turns out to be so satisfying.

    Along the lines of "vampire stories that aren't exactly vampire stories", I was really moved by Lindqvist's Let the Right One In (which I read in translation before seeing the Swedish film). It really got to me in a way that seems similar to what you've described above. (The Swedish film did a fine job, too, but left some minor characters' stories unexplored, which I missed. And I haven't seen the American film version.)

    1. Interesting. I don't think I even knew there was a book. I was dimly aware of the movie, and didn't see it out of my general rule of not seeing vampire/horror movies. I'll keep an eye out.