Toronto Book Review



Laura Sheridan embarked on her academic journey at Saint Perpetua’s Women’s College in 1968, a wide-eyed newcomer from Mississippi with a devout demeanor. Despite her initial trepidation, she secures a coveted spot in the senior poetry seminar, overseen by the discerning Professor Evelyn De Lafontaine. In a twist of fate, Laura is singled out to perform a poem during the inaugural session, drawing intense scrutiny from the professor.

Among her peers is the enigmatic Carmilla Karnstein, whose beauty conceals a palpable animosity towards Laura. Their interactions hint at a deeper connection between Carmilla and De Lafontaine, suggestive of more than a typical student-teacher rapport. Laura finds herself ensnared in their dynamic when invited to a private seminar, where she discovers Carmilla as the sole other attendee.

As the trio engages in poetic exchanges and vie for De Lafontaine’s favor, Laura gradually uncovers the sinister underbelly of Saint Perpetua’s. The revelation of De Lafontaine’s vampiric nature, feasting upon Carmilla’s willing submission, thrusts Laura into a world of nocturnal revelries and moral ambiguity.

Guided by Carmilla’s nihilistic philosophy, Laura grapples with the notion of art versus ugliness amidst a backdrop of absinthe-fueled gatherings and macabre festivities. Gibson intricately weaves literary allusions into the narrative, lending an air of sophistication to her characters. However, the protagonists remain somewhat one-dimensional, culminating in a predictable resolution.

Despite its lack of originality, the story pulsates with a decadent atmosphere, from clandestine salons to hedonistic celebrations, leaving readers yearning for more. Ultimately, it tantalizes with its seductive allure but falls short of delivering a wholly satisfying conclusion.

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