HeloiseBy Anne Hebert (General Publishing Co.; 1980/82)

Sometimes, to get to the really good stuff the horror fiction buff must look outside the horror shelves for mislabeled genre fiction. One example would be this “surreal fairy tale,” an impressive 100 page exercise in contained apprehension that deserves to rank with classic short horror novels like THE VICTORIAN CHAISE LOUNGE, THE SOUND OF HIS HORN and THE TENANT–the latter of which HELOISE dimly recalls in its peculiarly French depiction of all-consuming obsession.

The setting is Paris, where the carefree young Bernard has just gotten engaged to the vivacious Christine. But one afternoon on the metro Bernard meets Heloise, a hypnotically beautiful woman dressed in archaic period garb, and he’s immediately besotted.

Naturally Bernard’s relationship with Christine suffers. He comes to view her, and the life he’s been living, as an oppressive nuisance. Bernard decides he can’t maintain the posh apartment he and Christine have rented, as among other things the lighting is too bright. He’s led by Bottereau, an asthmatic creep who’s always seen in the company of Heloise, to a secluded and hopelessly old-fashioned apartment that Christine can’t stand but which Bernard, of course, loves. What he doesn’t know is that the place is actually Heloise’s former residence–and that she and Bottereau are in fact centuries-old vampires.

In HELOISE Quebec’s Anne Hebert (of KAMOURASKA and CHILDREN OF THE BLACK SABBATH, another mislabeled horror novel) offers an audacious take on vampirism that must have seemed quite radical in 1980, when the romantic vampire mode introduced by Anne Rice had just come into vogue. The vamps here, by contrast, are redolent of death above all else, and their attraction is that of the grave. Bernard eventually faces up to this, but the revelation comes too late, as the wheels of fate have already been set in motion.

HELOISE is marked by impressively observant, poetic prose that presents a most disquieting depiction of death-in-life. And, once again, it is, despite what the back cover blurbs might have you believe, very much a horror novel with all the trimmings.