Elizabeth Kostova: The Historian

by Rachel Baker on November 26, 2008

I would like to tell you a little story.  When I was a little girl, my grandmother liked to watch black and white horror films.  I have been scarred for life because of her enjoyment of these.  We would spend the night at her house, she’d make a late dinner and then turn on the tv to these movies – it seemed like she had some miraculous channel that no one else had that only showed scary movies.  They scared the crap out of her, but she’d watch them almost religiously.  I never understood it.  There was this movie about dolls the size of small children that would come to life and stick ice picks in the back of someone’s skull.  To this day, dolls the size of small children create a horrific feeling of fear.  Seriously.  And Dracula…I think I was ten when I saw the Bela Lugosi Dracula. SCAAAAARY!

As I got older, I read the Anne Rice vampire chronicles with no problem, but I haven’t been able to read Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  I saw the movie when it came a few years ago and it scared the living daylights out of me.  Watched Interview with a Vampire with no problems at all.

Its been years since I’ve read any vampire books, but this year, I’ve done a lot of reading about vampires.  I read the Twilight Saga, and most recently, I read The Historian.  And I had an epiphany about the whole Vampire/Undead genre of books and movies.

Black and white horror movies are way scarier than horror movies in color – even with our movie technology advances.  They just are, though to be fair to dolls that come to life, I won’t watch Chucky.  Books are the same way.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova was dark and mysterious…and, well, for a good portion of the book, scary.  Anne Rices books weren’t scary. Anne Rice wrote about vampires in color.  Elizabeth Kostova wrote The Historian in black and white.

It took me almost two weeks to read The Historian.  In the beginning, I could only digest about ten pages at a time, because the idea of a dark vampire book was too scary for my heart to handle in large doses.  The suspense of the first part of this book damn near killed me (okay… that’s an exaggeration, but you know what I mean).

The Historian is a story within a story within a story within a story (I think I got the right number of “within a story” correct).  I was reminded of the ‘story within a story’ device of Frankenstein.  I shamefully admit I don’t know if Bram Stoker used this format to tell his story or not – though maybe next year I will be able to make this comparison.

The writing in The Historian was really good.  Kostova did a supurb job in creating the dark crypts, the old musty library archives and the mysterious visitors.  However, it all got to be a bit much.  Towards about Chapter 39, the suspense was replaced by a sense of wonderment of how much more coincidence can happen before this book ends.  This was about the same time the story got a little bit too incredible to be completely immersed in the book. The texts the characters delved into to find traces of Dracula was interesting and the paths they took to find these texts were fascinating, but…the coincidental meetings of so many others who were trying to ‘find’ Dracula were just a little too unbelievable to me.  Again, though this didn’t begin to happen until a little more than halfway through the book.  At that point, the book wasn’t remotely scary.  Didn’t matter that Helen was bitten in her sleep when there were several other people in the room.  Didn’t matter that the librarian kept showing up.  Didn’t matter that they found the Professor and killed him with a stake through the heart.  The suspense was gone.

Regardless of the lack of continued suspense, The Historian was an enjoyable read.  I enjoyed Kostova’s writing, and would probably read more of her books.  I can see this being a VERY appealing novel for those who are extremely attracted to the Vampire genre of books and maybe even those who like reading about history in the fictional sense.

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