Saturday, 24 March 2007

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

This story is about three generations of historians delving into the history of Dracula (Vlad Tepes, ‘The impaler’). It mines the same vein as Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ (referred to several times in the book), with greater depth and thoroughness. The book is obviously published to exploit the ‘Dan Brown’ goldmine of uncovering ancient secrets, mixed with lots of cultural references.

The early part of the book is intriguing and draws one into the story and theme strongly. One of the best aspects is the description of place, as they flit around Europe to Amsterdam, Slovenia, the Pyrenees, Istanbul, Oxford, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and so on. Indeed the book could be called ‘The geographer’! The academic aspects and the excitement of finding things in books and places is well executed. The line between history, folklore and pure novelistic invention is cleverly blurred. The writer is erudite, conscientious, intelligent and a good painter of scene and atmosphere.

However the bad points include the following:
a) The book is just too long, at over 800 pages. I felt it drag in the latter half, even though the story is supposed to rise to a crescendo. The author needs a severe editor to cut it down to about 600 pages. There are innumerable redundant descriptions which hardly add much to atmosphere and the story.
b) The characters are wooden and don’t work for me. Without that sympathy, the reader does not care so much what happens to them.
c) The endless coincidences become tiresome. Obviously every person met in a restaurant, on a train or in a library etc…. is involved in the Dracula story.

I would recommend this as a good read, and would be interested to hear other views on this book. I am not sure I would want to read it twice.

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