I am reading a very scary book. I am often too scared to read it. I certainly can’t read it at night if I’m the only adult in the house. So, it’s going very slowly. The book is called The Historian and it’s by Elizabeth Kostova. It may or may not be famous; I’m not sure. I found it during my Tesco’s smash and grab in September, and I had about two and a half seconds to decide if I wanted it or not. It is recommended by Richard and Judy (the UK version of Oprah, except that they’re a married couple) so the chances were that it wasn’t awful.
Well, my smash and grab technique can’t be too bad, because The Historian is excellent. In terms of chasing a fascinating legend, it’s a little like The Da Vinci Code, except it’s TDVC’s grown-up sister: she’s sophisticated, erudite, glamourous AND she’s been to university. Compared to TDVC’s petulant schoolgirl, she’s a black kohl and stiletto-wearing intellectual. And she’s not scared of a vampire.
Moving on before I massacre that metaphor, The Historian is this: a layered and complex tale that is an adventure story, a love story and a horror story. It tells the tale of various intertwined academics (students/advisors, fathers/daughters, lovers) who seek the legendary Dracula. Their interest is piqued each time by the appearance of an old, strangely empty book, that contains nothing but an eerie woodcut of a dragon. They begin research, and it is as if their researches seem to evoke the dreaded Vlad. He gets closer and closer, revealing as he does a special taste for the librarians who assist them in their studies.
I am not really into vampires, so I haven’t read Bram Stoker’s Dracula or even seen the movie (with Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder). I am unable to make any connections myself, but this book is apparently loosely based on that one. I also sensed there was hype out there about The Historian so refrained from googling it. I’m now about halfway through, and I have to say, possible hype and comparisons with The Da Vinci Code aside, it is a great read and I’m quite stunned that it’s a first novel.
I am awed by its breadth – vast sweeping landscapes of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, alongside the more familiar scenes of North America and England – and by its depth. Kostova has mined a great seam of knowledge about the Dracula legend. She has created a set of likeable, if eccentric, characters who, as a reader, you care about and hope that they don’t fall prey to the great undead. There are tender insights into the father-daughter relationship and mysteries on many levels that continue to reveal themselves, keeping you reading on and on despite not always wanting to turn the next page. It’s full of fascinating detail but not too learned or scholarly. I think it’s a stunning work of craftsmanship. I hope I’m not too afraid to read all the way to the end.