I was really looking forward to reading Blood Fugue and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m a huge fan of one of D’Lacey’s other novels, Meat, and whilst Blood Fugue doesn’t inspire me in the way that Meat does, it is still easy to see why Stephen King said ‘Joseph D’Lacey rocks!’ His writing is beautifully crafted and teeming with thought-provoking ideas.
Blood Fugue centres around the life of James Kerrigan who lives in a cabin in the forest above Hobson’s Valley. He is a writer who occasionally does strange and miraculous things that he struggles to remember. He makes binders, wood carvings of an equal-sided cross within a circle, and gives them to all who ask his advice about the forest trails. He performs rituals on people who say they have lost themselves, cleansing them with forest spring water despite wetting his bed almost every night, paralyzed by a terror of the dark and the many tongued creature of that dark. As the novel progresses his status as guardian of Hobson’s Valley and hunter of the Fugue, the disease that turns people into monsters hungry for the liquids, but blood most particularly, of all living creatures, is made clear. Kerrigan is a Lethe: the antidote to Fugue lives in his blood and allows him to hunt the Fugue.
Because Kerrigan was a baby when he was infected with Lethe, he had no apprenticeship. All he does is a response to the instincts of his blood. His real enemy is the man who fathered his destiny, the old man whose Lethe qualities turned Fugue and then Rage, a crazed development of the disease that twists the human form into multiple protrusions of spikes and tongues, ripping and sucking at everything around them, who roams the forests and plans new ways to send the disease beyond the valley.
In a way, the plot follows expected forms: a quasi-vampire killer who has to awaken to his own calling and who must then face the biggest challenge to any killer for many moons; a lone fight against evil; an abundance of sex and sexually charged encounters where penetration and the exchange of fluids is paramount; even a virgin whose deflowering could lead to a new bread of monster that can conquer the day. However, that doesn’t make the journey any less exciting and the greatest fears are the primal ones that repeat and repeat throughout history (I was very pleased to discover a traditional Tahitian story, ‘Rona Long-Teeth’, about an evil she-monster who sprouts fangs all over her body when she grows angry). We fear that the thirst for power over others will consume and destroy us until civilisation no longer has meaning and even a contemplation of free will becomes laughable. We fear that a longing for immortality will lead not to godliness but to the most mindless bestiality. It is easier to defeat that fear by shaping it into a monster that we can kill, than to recognise it, as Kerrigan does at the end of the novel, within ourselves.
This is how Blood Fugue is akin to Meat: it is all about consumption. What we hunger for is at the base of who we are and in a world of consumption this is a message we need to pay more attention to. What do we really hunger for and what are the implications of our hunger? The novel ends as Kerrigan realises he should have been less complacent about the implications of his own desire.
If you like horror, Blood Fugue is a fierce and racy ride. Meat, as one of my favourite novels, remains the book I would recommend, but D’Lacey’s writing is compelling and his themes fascinating, he rocks in a way that Stephen King rocks, he reminds us how important it is to admit and examine our fears and our desires.
Next week I’ll be reading the second in Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction trilogy, The Year of the Flood and then the following week, the third, MaddAddam. Any suggestions for further reading would be very welcome.