I was promised horror, discomfort and a lingering sense of dread.
What I got was bludgeoned into boredom by pages upon pages of unnecessary details and irrelevant points of view that slowly sucked the life out of the tale like one of the vampires the book is so set on describing.
I had hope for del Toro’s The Strain. He’s a good storyteller in his movies, and Pan’s Labyrinth managed to make me shudder more than a few times.
Instead, I had only one moment of being creeped out. Just one. An initially infected man described a reoccurring nightmare that he had as a kid. Every night at midnight a moist, leech-skinned figure would stalk out from behind an armoire and smile at him. After many years of this, his family finally sold the armoire and he never had that nightmare again. He called this night terror “Mr. Leech”.
Coincidentally I read this part right before I shut out the lights and went to bed. Slightly disturbed, I picked the book up the next day only to be disappointed. It didn’t get more interesting from that point on, it was just more of the same.
I appreciate to an immense degree del Toro’s unromanticized vampires with their black, leech-like skin, their stinger chameleon tongues, and white blood filled with wriggling maggoty parasites. I appreciate the vampires’ hive mentality, turning them into Legion-like zombies, over simple blood crazed killers. I appreciate his character: a holocaust survivor turned Professor Van Helsing.
So, don’t get me wrong, there is the makings of a creepy and enthralling story in The Strain…
It’s just buried under the writing style.
Originally conceived as a TV series, del Toro couldn’t get anyone to run the series, so his agent suggested that it be turned into a book. Only the story never broke free of its origins: the descriptions so detailed, that it sucks out all mood and atmosphere; room layouts, meant to convey the personality of its owner, are always heavily described; actions scenes are extremely brief, or just happen “off-screen”.
On top of that half the novel is dedicated to exactly what is happening to EVERYONE who has encountered this infection, in a way that doesn’t move the plot forward. First we find out about all four people who were initially infected, cut back to them five or six times, then we find out about their nannies, their children, their neighbours, their neighbours’ husbands, the random people on the street, on and on, when the reader knows that the most interesting things are happening right back with the main characters.
Guillermo del Toro has done wonders with a movie screen, bringing us Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim, but The Strain is one story that should have waited for a camera.
Lucky for us its time has come. I look forward to being massively grossed out by the TV series where his meticulous details can be fed to us at a glance, rather than 400 pages that should have been left in his editor’s office.