The protagonist of In Mind of the Vampire (2016), by John Vance, is Julian Hemmings, a man in his middle 30s who lives in London during the 1890s. Although he had been a renowned surgeon, he lost his confidence when a young woman died while he was performing surgery. Having heard about the psychoanalytic methods of Freud, he gives up his practice and travels to Vienna where he studies with the famous man for six months. Based on these studies, and his own readings of Freud’s work, he returns to London and begins practice as a psychotherapist.
Like many converts to a new method or discipline, Hemmings is something of a fanatic about what he does. He believes almost all physical ailments can be cured through psychoanalytic methods. He regards himself as a man of reason, and psychotherapy as a science. He carries on a correspondence with Freud throughout the novel.
Here are the problems with Hemmings, problems which Vance uses to create an unusual version of an unreliable narrator. I have noted Hemmings’ fanaticism. I should also note that he seems more shallow than deep, convinced as he is about the methods of Freud but not always seeming to understand them. (It seems to me that one would need to study longer than 6 months to become an effective psychoanalyst). He is a bachelor who lives alone and has never married—he doesn’t seem to feel loneliness or sexual frustration. Yet he becomes infatuated with two young women, Lucy and Mina, who live several miles outside London. He finds himself falling in love with Mina, but is fascinated by the sexual allure of Lucy. He behaves in a friendly way to a young prostitute who warns him of threats to his safety. He visits and wants to treat a tormented young woman in a nearby asylum. And he is haunted by the memory of the young woman who died on his operating table. Hemmings has a woman problem: he is obsessed with women, they haunt his memory, provoke his sublimated passions, cloud his mind. His desire for Mina overwhelms his rational mind and his professional self-discipline. As a doctor who treats patients whom he believes to be victims of repression in one way or the other, he himself becomes its prime victim. Vance traces Hemmings’ problems back to his relationship with his father, who rejected him when he discovered his drawing of a nude woman. His mother is notably absent.
To my mind, Hemmings is a dimwitted dunderhead who fails to recognize that the two women who most entrance him, Mina in particular, have become vampires. Vance thus sets his novel up as a conflict between reason and the supernatural. The world of reason never recognizes that it is under assault. Throughout Hemmings encounters strange mists, oversized wolves, strange deaths, people with two small holes in their necks, yet he never suspects something unreal is occurring. As a psychoanalyst who seeks to treat the psychologically disturbed by helping them understand and accept past trauma, he seems least understanding of himself.