By Whitley Strieber
Went into the library looking for ‘The Wolfen’ and ended up with ‘The Hunger’. Didn’t realize the book came first (before the 1983 movie starring Catherine Deneuve & David Bowie).
I think people mostly know Strieber for ‘Communion’, which I never read. In any case, ‘The Hunger’ was really quite an excellent kick-ass fun read with a neat pseudo-scientific spin on the vampire mythos. It had everything I could ever ask for in a cool, modern bloodsucking novel. The central figure is the immortal Miriam, one of the very few left of her ‘kind’, who has managed to live from the dawn of ancient Egypt up to present day New York City (circa 1980).
Interestingly, the book actually never mentions the word ‘vampire’. Instead, Strieber posits these immortal humanoids are a separate species from the genus homo, having branched off from a common ancestor long ago. Able to pass as homo sapien, these creatures have lived under the radar of civilization, quietly preying on people and providing inspiration for supernatural legends. They are a contradiction because although superior in strength, lifespan, speed and intelligence, they are nevertheless a parasitic species that rely on human society for, not only food, but civilized comforts, finanical wealth and high culture.
The story weaves back and forth between the present and Miriam’s past lives in ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, and Napoleonic England. Much like our relationship with animals, Miriam depends on humans for nourishment and companionship, and always has a human lover in tow whom she has ‘transformed’. Her cyclical predicament is that, although her transformed partners live far longer than any normal human, they tend to rapidly deteriorate into shriveled up revenants after only a few hundred years! There are some horrifying passages when you realize what Miriam does with her expired zombie pets!
I realize the movie (directed by Tony Scott, who knew) had taken some liberties with the story and ending, but not the lesbian love scenes between Miriam and her new love interest, Sarah (she’s played by Susan Sarandon in the film). She happens to be a sleep researcher-scientist who may hold the key to human immortality, and who could potentially be Miriam’s newly transformed immortal girlfriend. Whereas the relationship-tension between Miriam and Sarah is actually quite engaging, it’s the hetero love scenes between Sarah and her boyfriend that are the cheesiest things in the book (like ugh! right out of a Danielle Steele book or something). But that’s my only complaint, the rest of the book kicks so much ass, I could easily forgive it.
There are also some good descriptions of New York City too. The story begins with Miriam and her pre-zombified current lover, John, off on a weekend trip stalking a teenaged couple in a sleepy Long Island town. They then return to their tricked out fortrified house in Manhattan's Sutton Place where there once was “a secret tunnel under the alley and garden, leading to a private dock on the East River, but the building of the East Side Drive had changed all that.” How cool is that?
What else. Strieber also does a commendable job of unifying the story with the running themes of hunger, need, and desire. It's this and the sympathetic and fascinating portrayal of the beautiful monstrous Miriam that elevates this book from just another vampire story. All in all, highly recommended!