Sunday, June 10, 2007


A review of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Although this book was published a couple of years ago, I put off reading it because the reviews seemed mixed and if I was going to commit myself to a 647-page book I wanted to be sure. Recently this title appeared on some librarians' lists of "best of" or "kept me up all night" books so I was newly inspired to give it a try.

A 16-year-old girl finds a mysterious book in her father's study. Before he has a chance to tell her the entire story behind the book he disappears, and she realizes he may be in danger and decides to try and find him. Within this story is her father's own story about the mysterious book, and his research and consequent search for Dracula's tomb, and for his graduate adviser who has mysteriously and suddenly disappeared. As if that's not enough, within this story is a third story - of his adviser and his previous, similar search for Dracula.

Usually I'm impatient with books containing a story-within-a-story and there were times that I had to stop and think about which story I was reading at that moment. But given that this was actually three stories nested within each other, I think Kostova did a pretty good job of keeping the storylines separate despite a few moments of confusion on my part.

However, there were a couple of contrived situations that I found a bit disappointing. For example, Helen escaped from Dracula because he thought she died when she jumped off a cliff. Don't vampires usually have some supernatural sense that makes them attuned to whether someone is dead or not? If not, wouldn't he check? Since he had been after her for so long, I would think he'd be interested enough not to assume anything. Otherwise he was a pretty intelligent guy, what with achieving immortality and all, so this didn't really ring true. But these were minor flaws in an otherwise well-told story.

More literary than Ann Rice's Vampire series (which I loved when I was a teenager), The Historian gave me the same sense of satisfaction for it's historical, supernatural, librarian-riddled creepiness. The ending was a little anti-climactic, but that may just be because I had other books waiting for me and was in a hurry to finish. It was a long freaking book. Although the vampires in this book weren't as sexy as Rice's vampires, that lent an added feeling of horror to the story. Personally, I wouldn't have minded being caught by Lestat, but Kostova's undead were scary and creepy and unappealing, as they should be.

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