The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova (2005) E

Date read: 12.30.07
Read from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

In The Historian, the titular scholar reminisces about the quest that she, her father, and her father’s mentor pursued several decades ago. All three became determined to discover the origins, deeds, and whereabouts of the true Dracula, the now-immortal Romanian warlord Vlad Tepes.

It should probably be evident to anyone following this blog for a certain length of time that I have a huge vampire problem, which very often leads me to read things that, well, aren’t really worth the time. This includes The Historian. I discovered only after the fact of attempting to read it that it has been sarcastically and very appropriately dubbed “The Dracula Code.” (Although to Kostova’s credit [?], she began writing it 10 years before Dan Brown began work on his ticket to fame.) The formula is indeed the same: flimsy historical detective work pursued among various scenic European locations, wedded to page after page of cheap cliffhangers achieved by conveniently dicing the narrative into chunks digestible enough for the attention-span-impaired.

Likewise, the “startling” or “creative” revelations she makes about the Dracula myth are only startling or creative if you don’t know all of them already, which I inevitably did. However, I do have to assume that people who pursue more useful hobbies than endlessly reading vampire mythology might still find the book an amusingly presented tour through various bits of folklore and theory. Overall, though, Kostova’s writing is pretty limp and insubstantial, if not quite on the level of a Dan Brown novel. I ended up ploughing through a total of 70ish pages out of a sense of obligation (having unfortunately purchased the novel), glanced at the ~600 left, and said “screw it.” Add Kostova to the list of presumably smart people (she’s a Yale graduate) who can’t actually write novels.

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Elizabeth Kostova

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  1. Andygrrrl’s avatar

    Glad I’m not the only one who couldn’t finish this! Seriously, if your vampire thriller has the heroes constantly exclaiming, “Quick! To the card catalog!”, Ur Doin It WRong.

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  2. Emera’s avatar

    Hi Andygrrrl! Thanks for your comment. :)

    I think a library-based thriller is awesome in theory – intellect is sexy! – but The Historian was just toweringly dull. Kostova’s narration is so… tepid.

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  3. kakaner’s avatar

    Hello too Andygrrrl! I think I even forgot to mention this to Emera before, but I also fell into the Massive-800-Page-Book-for-Five-Dollars BN Bargain Bin trap and bought The Historian. It is currently living at the bottom of my winter clothes box (I saw it just yesterday while rummaging) and has been ever since I read the first 25 pages or so.

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  4. Andygrrrl’s avatar

    Well, as a librarian (albeit an unemployed one) myself, I’d love a good library-thriller too…but I’m starting to suspect that I might have to be the one to write it!

    There are some good qualities of The Historian: her food descriptions are yum, and the hardback makes for a good doorstop!

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