Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova

When an American diplomat's daughter finds an old book and a series of letters in her father's library, she's drawn into the quest that brought her parents together, then took her mother away from her--the search for Vlad the Impaler.

I'm honestly not sure how to rate this book. Parts of it were absolutely thrilling. When things were actually happening, I couldn't put the book down, desperate to know what would happen next. And then I got to one of the expository parts and every time I looked at my Kindle I'd come up with something else I had to do rather than continuing on.

The problem, I think, is right there in the title: all the main characters are historians (even Dracula, apparently. Go figure). What that means for the story is that there was a lot of research. And talking about research. And looking at old books. And while I'm sure that's very nice for historians and did occasionally produce some interesting information, I didn't really need to hear all that much about it. I felt like I was slogging through the Forest of Tedium, hacking through impossibly thick Boredom Brambles along the way. I think this would have been a much better story if Kostova had extremely condensed all that and focused on the actual events, only presenting the reader with the results of the research if necessary. There was also a great deal of description of Eastern Europe that, while moderately interesting, wasn't really important to the story itself. Oddly, the characters, despite being scholars, failed to ask some key questions (like how did Dracula become a vampire or were there others that weren't working for him) which were answered rather hastily at the end.

I found the style of the book to be confusing at times. The story is told in no less than three layers of first-person narrative: the daughter is listening to her father's stories and reading his letters, in which he shares the stories and letters of his former advisor. This made for some confusion at times when I was surprised to find myself, without warning, back in the father's story after only a couple pages of the daughter's. My confusion says something about the voices of the characters (or lack thereof)--a reader should be able to tell, most of the time, who's talking simply by the way they talk. I shouldn't have to wait to get to someone's name to figure out whose story I'm reading, particularly in first person.

There were things I really enjoyed about this novel (or I wouldn't be having trouble rating it). As I said before, when the characters were doing something other than research, it was actually quite exciting. I thought the ending was very well done. (The ending ending, not the climax. That was a little abrupt.) I also liked that the vampires in this story were definitely not in any way good--it gets a little tiring reading about misunderstood vampires all the time. It was a nice change.

If I could give the bits of the book where they actually did something four stars and the rest of it one star, I'd do that, but that's not how ratings work. So we're stuck with this. I would hesitantly recommend this book if you don't mind sitting through a lot of dullness to get to the interesting parts.

Plot: 3 cupcakes
Characters: 2 cupcakes
Style: 2 cupcakes
Overall: 2 cupcakes

1 comment:

I love your comments! I try to respond to them...eventually!

This is now an award-free blog. I love and totally appreciate that you thought of me, but I know myself better than to think I would be organized enough to pass them along, and that doesn't seem fair.

Finally, if you're posting a URL, the code to make it actually link to your site is <.a href="your URL">your text<./a>, without the periods.