What if one of Paris’s most elegant, most sought-after demimondaines lived the life of the girl about town as a vampire in modern-day Brooklyn? V. M. Gautier dares to ask that question and has spun a very believable tale of the life Marie Duplessis might live as one of the undead in her slickly written new novel, Blood Diva.
Alphonsine Duplessis lay dying of consumption in 1847 when she was approached by a stranger who offered her the gift of immortal life, for someone as brilliant and beautiful as she was, the stranger said, shouldn’t die before her time. Alphonsine takes the gift and never looks back, sustaining herself on the blood of mortals throughout the years. She has become what the other vampires call a diva, specially chosen because, to them, she is a singular creature, someone who deserves to be counted among the ranks of their kind. Alphonsine has been able to travel the world and has borne witness to history as it unfolds, and as time has passed, she has become as familiar with the different subtleties in the tastes of human blood as she once was with those of wine:
No two people tasted the same – not father and son, nor brother and sister, not even twins. This she knew from her own experience. Children’s blood had a sweetness like the candied grapes young men once brought her as tokens between acts at the opera. There was a freshness to young blood, like apples picked in the summer at a perfect moment of ripeness. Teenaged girls tasted of secrets, and boys of lust. Women, pretty ones, whose hearts had been broken had a certain tenderness and resignation, especially if you came to them when their looks were fading, and there wasn’t much hope. There were men who had an edge like a wine with a bitter after taste, while others were warm and smooth. The old, whom she wasn’t fond of, tasted of sadness, disappointment, and defeat, though they would certainly do when convenient. Human blood, like the human voice, had different timbres. Some had the richness and depth of a bass-baritone while others were light but agile like a coloratura soprano.
Alphonsine meets the young writer Dashiell at an art show, and the two are inevitably drawn to each other and embark on a passionate affair. Even though she tells herself that she must not become too emotionally attached, Alphonsine falls in love with Dashiell. The longer she is with him, she begins to see certain similarities between Dashiell and her beloved Adet, Alexandre Dumas fils. She begins to believe that maybe she has somehow been given a sort of second chance with Adet, and that Dash could be Adet’s reincarnation. Even though she has yet to tell Dash the truth about what she is and why she doesn’t go out during the day and prefers only to eat vegan food, she still proceeds with the relationship, eventually accepting his marriage proposal. She strikes a deal with her vampire benefactors to perform one more job for them, and after that, she will be free, financially secure, and able to marry Dash. She decides to go even further so that she can live a human lifetime with him and be happy, but when it looks like everything is going to work out, Alphonsine’s past catches up with her, and the lies she has been telling begin to fall apart.
Blood Diva is almost a retelling of Camille, for Alphonsine is determined to do whatever she can to ensure Dash’s happiness, even sacrifice the life she has built for herself and her immortality. But Gautier takes many of the true elements of Marie Duplessis’s affair with Dumas fils and juxtaposes them with the unfolding affair with Dashiell. Dumas fils knew exactly who Marie was and what she did for a living, and though they loved each other passionately, Dumas fils was unable to come to terms with his role in Marie’s life as the amant de coeur, and so he ended the relationship. Alphonsine seizes the possibility of a second chance at love with Dashiell, but she must lie to him and keep him from discovering the truth about what she is, or else she might lose his love. This begs the question of what is better: a brief love affair based on the cold, hard truth, or the chance of a lifetime of happiness and love all while knowing that your love is based on lies? Further, Alphonsine’s love for Dash motivates her to make the bid for independence she has always wanted, for she has lived much of her life as a vampire under the direction of the leaders of her kind. It is known that part of the reason why Marie Duplessis became a courtesan was her desire for independence and to be able to live her life on her own terms. Alphonsine wishes to break away from the influence of her benefactors and do the same.
Blood Diva is really the story of a so-called bad girl trying to make good and seize the opportunity for love, and also the story of a young woman who is trying to assert her independence and gain a foothold in a world that has changed drastically while coming to terms with who she has become after all this time. Alphonsine has done all of this before in her mortal life and takes the chance to do it in her immortal life. To be honest, I think the real Marie Duplessis would be very pleased with it.
The novel does contain some rather graphic scenes, no worse than anything in an Anne Rice novel or A Song of Ice and Fire. However, since scenes of sex and violence can be triggering for some people, it’s better that they know ahead of time.
I received an advanced review copy of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
In celebration of Persephone Magazine’s birthday, we’re giving away a signed paperback copy of the novel. Entry limited to U.S. residents.