Monday, October 14, 2013

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova Read Along: Part 2

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.

This week we have read up to the end of the book.

1. What did you think of the way everything unfolded at the end? Any surprises?

I thought that it played out much as I had expected, with few surprises. Unfortunately, I was so bogged down with the slow-moving plot and mountains of pointless detail that I was pretty much skimming towards the end. I also felt that the suspense of the climax was handled badly so that the book almost ran out rather than coming to a satisfying conclusion.

Whilst I can appreciate the amount of work that went into constructing this mammoth text, I do think that the structure was a big problem because it removed us from the narrators and made them feel a little unreliable. It also reduced the pace dramatically, which I think was my biggest complaint about the title. It was deathly slow and this made the details feel unimportant and unnecessary rather than adding a feeling of realism. So many of the crucial plot points were miraculous coincidences or so vague that no true historian would ever give them much credence, let alone deduce anything substantial from them.

I was particularly disappointed by the revelation that Rossi had drunk some potent liquor that had robbed him of the memories of his affair with Helen’s mother: that was a very lazy way to retain his ‘goodness’ and yet fit the plot requirements. Similarly, I found the ‘unsent’ postcards from Helen totally unbelievable.

2. What did you think of Dracula?

On the whole I was a little underwhelmed by him and his role as The Historian. Being a practical-minded person I was constantly wondering how he moved his massive library around without it being damaged, lost or scattered. I have done some training in the Circulation department if my local library, so I know that hefting books about is no easy task: and he did not seem able to convert them into bats, wolves or columns of smoke. Indeed, I felt like too many details of his travels were unexplained or highly improbable. He seemed to be able to read minds and overhear private conversations, whilst covering great distances in no time at all. Then there is the matter of transporting Rossi’s body to continental Europe unnoticed. Even Bram Stoker has the Count travelling by sea into Whitby!

3. In Chapter 73, Dracula states his credo: “History has taught us that the nature of man is evil, sublimely so.” Do the characters and events in the novel seem to agree or disagree with this?

Certainly it would seem that many people could be corrupted to evil by the offer of power. The Librarian seems to have epitomized this aspect of human frailty, although we do not know what kind of man he was before he received his book. However, we see many people working against evil and doing their very best to do good, so I guess that Dracula is seeing only what he wants to see.

4. Helen’s history is deeply intertwined with Dracula. In what ways are the two characters connected? Does she win out over his legacy?

I suppose that they are both fiercely intelligent, brave and ruthless when necessary. However, both of them seem to struggle with empathy and make decisions that have horrible consequences for their loved ones. I guess that the love of a good man, and her child, made Helen turn away from her dark legacy, but I could not find much admirable to like in her.


  1. I was pretty underwhelmed all the way around. I thought it would've been more effective if the narrative had been a little more straightforward and less bogged down in layers and detail. I appreciate the great effort it must've taken to write this book, but it left me feeling pretty "meh." I'm glad you were able to read with us and discuss, though! That's always the best part, even if the book isn't the greatest.

    1. I'm just glad that I wasn't the only one to be underwhelmed - it makes me feel a little less of a heathen! :D

  2. I didn't really understand why Rossi had to drink amnesia to forget the love of his life. Why couldn't he simply have decided she would be in great danger with him and basically lied when they tried to contact him - in order to protect her? And I agree with you about the unsent postcards. I liked what they contained, but I had trouble understanding why they would be unsent and yet later found.

    I wanted to know more about Dracula. On the surface, as you point out, many of his 'powers' seem far-fetched. So I wanted to know more about his minions, how he even became a vampire, and such.

    Still, on the whole, I enjoyed the adventure. I really liked the foreignness of it all, and watching Paul be astounded, and sometimes perplexed, by the different cultures he bumped int.


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