I picked up Under the Sunset after seeing it mentioned in a Slate article about Bram Stoker. For such a short book — it couldn’t have taken me more than a few hours —, Stoker’s first work was a slog.
This collection of Victorian children’s stories is set in a fantasy world, one nominally populated by humans just like us (so asserts the introduction). It’s actually just a gathering place for beings of either simple virtue or plain wickedness: kings think only of the good of their people, brave and beautiful princes stand ready to sacrifice themselves to save their land, everyone weeps for the sadness of some misfortune, good wins out before there’s even time to build some suspense.
I suppose it’s fine that there’s no nuance: this is a children’s book. What I find harder to bear is that there’s no humor. Everyone is so deathly earnest about everything. All stories are filled with this weirdly urgent Manichaean division: the good and innocent, so beautiful they moves everyone to tears, and the hard-hearted guilty, who either meet the swift death or (if they are lucky) are saved by an overwhelming sense of remorse and repentance. Stoker’s writing leaves no space for humor, let alone nuance. You emerge from this book coated in treacly virtue.Read on →