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The Strain: Let me introduce you to another V word
The Strain - Guillermo del Toro
Member Name: joncarey9
The Strain - Guillermo del Toro
Advantages: Exciting cinematic feeling horror novel
Disadvantages: Little rushed towards the end maybe
Guillermo del Toro is one of the great modern day film makers. His stylish eye for design and amazing imagination have lead to him being behind the release of some of the most stand out films we've seen in recent years. From his debut, Cronos (1993), a vampiric thriller with an original twist to his most recent Hellboy II (2008), and all that has fallen in between; he has always provided us cinema fans with something different, something truly unique. There's a reason why he has been employed, trusted even, to direct the upcoming Hobbit films, it's that del Toro does horror and fantasy like no other.
Somewhere during del Toro's crammed schedule he has found the time to write his debut novel, co-authored with the American novelist Chuck Hogan, who I presume acted very much as his aid into unfamiliar territory. The Strain is the first of a trilogy of books, which will subsequently be released over the next two summers, so right from the start you know that things aren't going to be wrapped up come the end of the book, there will be cliff hangers and a sense that this is only just the introduction to a much greater story.
The Strain is a horror novel, a vampire story mainly set in the present day. Vampires have very much been the flavour of the month over the last few years, with them appearing in all aspects of media, I'm guessing largely triggered but the popularity of the Twilight books and then films, but there's more to it than that. Vampires have always been a popular favourite amongst horror writers, and as is the case with all works of fiction key ideas are basically recycled as the decades go by. What is Twilight for example but a modern day Dracula/Romeo & Juliet hybrid.
Where del Toro has been clever with The Strain though is in his representation of the vampire itself. As a whole vampires in fiction have been written as romantic, lonely, mysterious creatures of the night, taking advantage of busty maidens and the like. We've seen them romanticized, idolised and softened down quite a bit, there's also been that terrible cliché that all the 80's and 90's vampire fiction was actually a metaphor for the spread of HIV and AIDS. What we get with The Strain though is not any of this, vampires are not handsome European aristocrats, or troubled heart throbs from the other side of the tracks, they are brutal, mindless, killers. Guillermo del Toro himself stated that his vampires are "as romantic as colon cancer", a pretty strong endorsement for them.
The fact is these blood suckers would probably be more at home in a George A Romero zombie movie than anything many of us are used to seeing vampires as. Once killed, they rise up as the living dead, with an unrelenting thirst for blood. They probably reminded me most of the onscreen representation in the recent film I Am Legend, a plague which spreads and infects its victims in the most horrific way.
The novel reads like the screenplay to a Hollywood film, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact del Toro apparently pitched the plot to the Fox television channel with the view to making it into three mini seasons, but they declined, stating that maybe it would be better as a comedy...make of that as you will.
It starts with the arrival of Flight 753 at JFK International airport in New York, its short snappy chapters jumping around the different characters, giving us different perspectives like an episode of 24. It's this high concept fast paced action which makes you not help but think what a great movie it would make, and you never know maybe one day it will.
This mysterious airplane has gone dark moments previously but landed without a hitch, just failing to go any further than sit patiently on the run way. As the authorities are scrambled and the tension builds around what exactly is happening on board its true horrors are revealed bit by bit. In homage to Dracula arriving on the shores of Whitby bay, we find out that a vampire was on board, bringing with it its desire to spread its disease and trigger a war amongst the vampire elders who want to remain living in the shadows.
Our main character Dr. Ephraim is a scientist from the Center for Disease Control, called in to investigate what is originally presumed to be a virus spreading amongst people. But his investigations and alignment with the well travelled Abraham Setrakian, our Van Helsing figure, lead them to realise what they are now facing is much much worse.
This amalgamation of zombie and vampire fiction reminded me at times of an episode of CSI, it's like CSI: Bloodsuckers. The writers, and I'm sure Chuck Hogan has had a bigger role in this than I have credited him for, provide us the reader with great detail in regards to crime scenes and autopsies, everything they tell you seems legit, like a load of effort has gone into researching even the little things, like the tricks of the trade in catching New York city rats. It's this strong attention to detail which gives the book some depth, something which is often difficult to come by in horror fiction.
The Strain isn't a perfect piece of fiction but it's an extremely good read which has left me wanting more. Del Toro and Hogan have tried their hardest to give us something fresh, and on the most part have. No idea is truly original but they make it entertaining enough to keep us reading. I was really surprised how much horror can actually be induced purely through words, as I skipped through the pages I literally felt my heartbeat changing as the tension was built up, it was a great experience.
The book is violent, bloody and riddled with bad language so if you're the sort who is easily offended you might want to give it a pass. It is a tremendous story though and one which sets the scene nicely for hopefully even better things to come. One last point, the books design is a thing of beauty, the 400 page hardback has a lovely sense of style running throughout, its chapter headings set apart of bold black pages, with nice little sub headings. Effort and time have clearly been put into making it feel like something special, and it sure has the desired effect.
Summary: A great debut novel from del Toro