Published 2005 703 pages
Late one night, exploring her father’s study an unnamed young woman finds an ancient book stuffed with old letters addressed to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. The old book contains all blank pages except one, which shows an image of a dragon printed from an ancient woodcut with the single word DRAKULYA printed in gothic letters underneath. Reluctant to read her father’s private papers, the girl puts the book back on the shelf and resolves to ask her father about the mysterious book.
Her father is strangely reluctant to tell her anything about the book or letters but he starts to take her on trips with him around Europe and in each new place he tells her a little more about how he acquired the book and the letters whilst studying at an American university.
The book was mysteriously left amongst his things in a library one night whilst he was working late. Unable to find out who had left it there or where it came from he kept it and started to investigate the subject of the books only image – Dracula.
He shows the book to his teacher at the university, Professor Rossi, who relates to him how he himself had received a similar book, decades earlier, and how this had led him to spend a large part of his time investigating the history of Vlad Tepes (Dracula) and his shocking conclusion that Dracula still lives.
At home, impatient with the speed at which her father is telling the story, the young woman starts to study the legends of Dracula for herself with tragic results. For wherever there is an archive or library with records of the life or death of Dracula there also seems to be a dangerous menace to the people who read those tales.
Initially I was reluctant to read The Historian. When the book was first published I picked it off the shelf and almost got as far as the cash register with it before I turned around and put the book back. For some reason I just couldn’t face reading it. I think I was put off by the very large number of pages and the rather small print. It took Elizabeth Kostova 10 years to write The Historian and after looking at the book I was afraid that it might take me 10 years to read it.
I carried on avoiding this book for some time until a strange thing happened. I was at a wedding, making polite conversation with a complete stranger and the subject turned to books. At which point the chap I was talking to practically bounced out of his chair with excitement and said that I absolutely must read The Historian, in his words “It’s like The Da Vinci Code - but with vampires!” Being the only person on the planet who thinks the Di Vinci Code is not a good book, I wasn’t sure that this was reason enough to read it but I did remember his enthusiasm and so I took the plunge and read The Historian for myself. I'm so glad that I did, I just wish that I’d read it sooner.
The novel is long, there is no doubt about it, and it isn’t a quick read. The pace of the book is slow - very slow. It is paced like a classic Victorian novel and yet the story is so well constructed and so well written that it makes compelling reading.
The Historian is set in multiple time lines and is part literary thriller, part travelogue, part detective story and part love story too. The story is told by the unnamed narrator, mostly in the form of letters and documents. This device lends itself well to the narration of the story and is again reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula which is also told in the form of letters and diary entries.
The descriptions of the Eastern European settings in the book are complete with facts and bursting with enough details to rival any travelogue. When reading these passages it almost feels like you have visited those places yourself.
Most of the action takes place in dusty libraries and archives and the detective work to find Dracula is all done through books. The historical facts have been so well blended with fiction that it is hard to know where fact finishes and fiction begins.
Is this book really about vampires? Yes and no. While Dracula and his undead minions have a menacing presence throughout the book, the vampirism aspects of the story are subtle. The supernatural is never investigated or explained. The investigations are saved for finding Dracula’s tomb, tracking him through books and papers, not for worrying about the exact details of his supernatural existence.
I would highly recommend this book to vampire fans and non-vampire fans alike. Some people will probably think that the book is too long and the pace too slow; some people may find the descriptive text too long and the style at the beginning of the book interrupted; some people will probably wish it had more vampires or vampire slaying in it; but I think that it is one of the most intelligently written and enjoyable books that I have ever read. To sum it up, “It’s like The Da Vinci Code – but better!”
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