Author: J. Sheridan Le Fanu
This is a review for the audible record of Carmilla featuring the voices of Rose Leslie, David Tennant, Phoebe Fox and others.
I downloaded this as one of Audible’s monthly free releases for members. The description indicated it was the major influence for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and comparing the dates it looks like this story came out over twenty years before the better known vampire work. After I got a bit into this story, I realized I’d also seen a film version of this in The Curse of Styria so I had a pretty good idea of how the story would go.
In Carmilla a teenage girl and her father end up having a mysterious young woman staying with them after encountering her in a carriage accident. The daughter, Laura, quickly becomes enthralled with Carmilla, the young woman, for a variety of reasons. The first is that Carmilla appears to be the same woman that appeared to Laura in a vision in her bedroom when she was her child. Another is that Carmilla is very mysterious, not revealing her full family name, and is prone to sleepwalking (allegedly). When an old portrait is discovered that appears to be of Carmilla it only adds to the intrigue. While all this is going on, there’s also background noise about young women getting attacked or falling ill in the surrounding village. There are also allusions to beasts appearing, either in rumor or in Laura’s bedroom at night.
All of the plot and background noise is really present to drive the real story of whether Carmilla is going to bite Laura or make love to her. The tension is very effective in the story, and serves as a skeleton plot for books like Twilight or Beauty and the Beast, or any other story where a teenager is being romanced by a supernatural monster. Looking at Wikipedia, I see there’s some criticism on this story for perpetuating the homosexual as predator narrative, but reading it today without that sentiment it reads as a very intimate character driven story between the two.
The production by Audible fully embraces this, with the performances of Rose Leslie as Laura and Phoebe Fox as Carmilla fully leaning into the intimate moments. Most of their scenes are delivered in whispers to each other, with shared small laughs and even heavy breathing filling in the moments between lines. The story is delivered in a three act set up and it moves quickly. The ending of the story felt a bit rushed, with the discovery and outcome of Carmilla delivered with really no time for reaction by Laura which should be the most interesting part for readers/listeners.