This year my participation in R.I.P. VIII is somewhat limited as I only have time for this Read Along. However, you can find links to everyone else’s posts at The Estella Society.
So far we have read up to the end of Chapter 40 (it is quite a long book!).
1. What do you think of the structure of the novel? It’s a story within a story (sort of within a story). We have Professor Rossi’s storyline, Paul’s reflections, and the daughter’s adventures. And letters. There’s a lot going on!
This technique increases the feel of a historian uncovering pieces of evidence about an event, which seems appropriate because of the title and the professions of several of the protagonists. However, it does also produce two major problems.
Firstly, it slows the narrative a great deal. Some might argue that this structure allows us to follow both journeys in parallel so that we can presumably have all the ‘big reveals’ at the end of the book. Personally, I find it a little bloated and I wish that the narrative of the earlier timelines had been entirely restricted to letters or documents read by the narrator. It is almost as if the author could not decide which story was more important and so she tried to ‘cover all her bases’.
Secondly, it never allows us to address the problem of unreliable narrative. Although almost all the people we deal with are academics, and shown to be highly successful in their respective fields, we see very little critical thinking on display. There are passing remarks about how they would normally distrust such bizarre accounts, but that they trust the source and therefore believe every word as the honest truth. This lack of scholarly vigor is somewhat irritating and creates a house of cards based on very little direct evidence and a lot of opinion.
2. What are your thoughts on Helen’s characterization? Have you warmed to her?
As a person who was highly unimpressed by the man who would become my husband when we first met, I can relate to Paul’s changing opinions of Helen. However, I would be much happier if he simply said that she was the mother of his child, instead of hinting at it repeatedly. I also thought that striking resemblance between her and Dracula was done in a rather heavy-handed way. I presume that Helen’s mother will reveal (shock, horror!) that she is a descendent of the great man, as are Helen and the narrator. These hints would work more successfully if the narration had been written at the time that it occurred. However, it is recorded many years after the important points have been revealed to Paul so it comes across as clumsy.
Helen seems like the most practical and straightforward of our lead characters, so I liked her from the beginning. Unlike Paul, who shows a great deal of cowardice and over-protection in his handling of his daughter, Helen is fairly fearless and willing to do whatever is necessary.
3. What do you think of the peripheral characters? Are their motivations pure? I’m thinking of Turget, Helen’s family members, etc.
There seems to be very little gray in the matter of the secondary characters: they are either good or bad. Although I can admire Turget, Eva and Barley and their determination to help our protagonists, I do feel as if they are a little too nice and perfect. This leads to a lack of conflict and negotiation amongst the characters, which is unfortunate because it makes them a little too two-dimensional. It also adds to the feeling that they are simply there to move the plot along.
4. Other thoughts on this book?
There is an awful lot of excess detail in this book, which is starting to get in the way of the plot. I can appreciate the exacting research that has obviously been conducted and the author does paint some wonderfully evocative portraits of the places that our narrators visit. However, they visit so many places that I am beginning to get rather fed up of the endless descriptions. I honestly do not need to know about what they eat or what the decor is like in their hotel every time they stay somewhere. I feel as though the book’s editor should have been much aggressive with their red pen.