Lost Souls

Published: 1992
Author: Poppy Z Brite


A horror story which challenges conventions

I’m keen for this website to be a two-way conversation between me and those who read it.  I also want to broaden my horizons a little so every now and again I ask for ideas for books and movies to review.  @paulmonkey on Twitter suggested Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite – a horror story about a group of vampires who encounter the small-town band ‘Lost Souls?’.  This is most definitely not the kind of book I would ever pick up and I’m grateful to Paul for recommending it.

The story focuses on troubled teenager Nothing, the son of a vampire father and human mother, who is unhappy in his human world and leaves home to find his real family.  One of the most interesting aspects of Lost Souls is how Brite completely subverts the norms of vampire fiction.  Vampires in this world are not humans who are killed and then resurrected by drinking the blood of a vampire, instead they are born this way if one of their parents is a vampire.  Most of Brite’s vampires have to file their teeth into fangs, can walk in daylight and can’t be harmed by the usual weapons such as wooden stakes or holy water.  A bullet through the heart or brain on the other hand will kill them. This break from the normal protocols of vampire legend makes Brite’s characters more frightening than usual – we can’t rely on our old knowledge to keep us safe.

The hedonistic lifestyle is also one which we don’t normally associate with the undead.  The antagonists Zillah, Twig and Molochai travel around the country finding food and enjoying their partying lifestyle, and have a particular fondness for green chartreuse.  That was a nice little touch that tickled me enormously.

Sex is a major element of this book – I think all of the characters are rampantly bisexual.  Some of the relationships and encounters are erotically charged but a couple are quite disturbing and left me looking for bleach to clean out my eyes!

The role of women in the story is deeply misogynistic.  There are only a couple of female characters and, with the exception of the cliched wise old woman, they exist purely for the sexual gratification of the males – they are used and discarded, often violently.  One of the main characters rapes his girlfriend after discovering her infidelity, but I think we are supposed to have sympathy for him as well as her. It thoroughly disappointed me that any modern novelist could write such unrelentlessly degrading stories for female characters and didn’t even add just one strong woman to balance it out a little.

The only truly sympathetic character is Ghost, a kind and compassionate singer who longs to save those around him.  This character isn’t strong enough to challenge all of the nastiness within the book.

Despite some strong reservations, I did enjoy Lost Souls.  It was a radical departure from my normal reading habits and one that I’m glad I took, but I’m not sure I’ll be rushing back to read any more of Brite’s work.

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