Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Want to make vampires boring? Just add history!

The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova

Did you know Dracula is real? Not was real, but is real. That’s the premise behind The Historian. Apparently, Dracula is alive and well--and he’s even got his own stationery line.

Well, not exactly. Every so often, one studious soul, researching in the depths of a library, will find an old book, completely blank inside except for the middle pages, which bear the picture of a dragon. If the finder is intrigued enough to keep the book and begin investigating its source, doom is imminent, for the investigation into the mysterious book may very well lead into the heart of Eastern Europe, to the resting place of Dracula. And in the process the investigator will be...you know it's coming...BORED TO TEARS.

Dum dum DUM!

In a nutshell, that’s the plot of The Historian. The story itself is sorta good…in that it involves vampires, which I generally like, but unfortunately, The Historian contains too much…well, history. And what isn’t history kinda sucks. Awesome!

First, the history. While I found it overwhelming, I know that the history is exactly what so many like about it. Unlike those who loved the historical “bits” (and by “bits” I mean long, long, long passages of text which totally chop up the plot but, on a positive note, do manage to show off the author’s vast knowledge of history) I could take only so many references to the Ottoman Empire, unknown places and buildings, and various historical figures with whom I was unfamiliar. (Can I get some visual inserts, at least? Jeez.) Overall, I found the abundance of history all a bit overwhelming and thought it detracted from the book’s story. It’s not that I am against the inclusion of all historical influences…there was just so MUCH. Condense, please.

Now, the plot. Ah, yes. I naively thought vampires = interesting. Not so here—Kostova is one of those great writers who can bore you to tears with what would normally be an intriguing story. Worse still, the plot is quite predictable and contrived; for example, the world is big and only a few “lucky” souls find one of the abovementioned books—and yet they all BUMP INTO ONE ANOTHER DURING THE NOVEL. How convenient! Ugh, and did I mention the length? It’s 700 pages! The novel could be cut in half and not suffer greatly. Or at all. The lack of suspense is also a downer. But I like vampires, so I was interested in some of it. A small part.

In a nutshell: Yawn.

Bibliolatry Scale: 2 out of 6 stars


Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Intriguing, I've been hammering my way through a Vampire story this morning also:

When I was 13 years old, one of the first serious novels I read was Salem's Lot by 'King. Now I'm taking another crack at it.

I hate to say it, but apart from I Am Legend, Vampires are pretty boring... Lot is better than I expected, but it is no IT which scared the living crap out of me both as child and adult...

Anyway, thank you for reading this, so I dont have to.. Glad to see you back from your honeymoon.

Bibliolatrist said...

You know, after reading your comment, I reconsidered my earlier statement and tried to think of vampire books that were really exciting and scary...

Now that I think about it, I think I confused vampire books with vampire movies. I seem to "remember" a great number of terrifying vampire books (even just horror books in general) but would be hard pressed to name a single one.

IT is pretty terrifying, though.

Hoyaheel said...

I really loved this book, but no one else I've talked to who's read it has enjoyed it. Oh well......Yeah, I was a history major in college ;-)

Bibliolatrist said...

That's okay, Hoyaheel, I still love ya ;)

I actually have heard many people say they like it, precisely because of the history. I, however, have always preferred the "we'll pretend it's history but it's really not" genre, best exemplified by 300. It may not be accurate, but it sure is beautiful.

I think The Historian was simply too accurate for my tastes, except for the whole "Dracula is real" part, of course.

Lesley said...

This is one of those books that people seem to either love or hate. Now me, I'm with hoyaheel - I really enjoyed it, especially because of all the historical stuff. However a friend of mine, whose reading tastes I generally admire, despised the book, calling the Dracula character a vampiric Oscar Wilde, minus the wit.

Emran said...

I just finished this book. And I must admit that it started off with an interesting premise, but soon descended into an abyss of seemingly unending narrative history. And the plot requires the reader to suspend disbelief. For example, are we supposed to take it at face value that someone in a hurry would be able to write such long-winded letters to his daughter as Paul did? Or that Dracula, being a avid book-collector, could not find time in his five centuries of existence to catalog his own collection? One must wonder what he has been doing all these years, other than the obvious. In a nutshell, echoing Jennifer, this book was a massive boring let-down.