I just finished, The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. It’s a historical fiction/horror novel about Dracula— but calling it that really doesn’t do it justice. Here are seven reasons I loved The Historian:
1. Immediately, I was drawn into this book. Kostova is a master of language. “My dear and unfortunate successor,” begins the letter that changes everything. (I now want to start every blog post here, “My dear and unfortunate reader.”) She writes in a few different styles, depending on who is speaking, but it’s always old-fashioned. To read this book is to enter into a world where cat memes never existed. And that is good.
2. The story is complicated, but it all makes sense. Kostova uses the found letters approach to telling the story. The narrator finds letters which tell a long and moving story from the past. And the people writing those letters also find letters (letters inside letters inside letters.) Meanwhile, the narrator’s present is also becoming more and more perilous. There are actually four timelines going on:
1. The present day, referred to in the forward and afterward.
2. The 1970’s, when the narrator was a teenager.
3. The late 1950’s, when the narrator’s parents met and went searching for Dracula. These stories are first told to her by the narrator’s father, and then later told in found letters from her father.
4. 600 years ago, when Dracula was alive. (Alive and not undead.) This is told in letters from monks. The monks’ letters are honestly a bit tedious, but well done. I’m actually not sure if the author made up the monks’ letters, or if they are truly historical artifacts from the real world.
3. The idea that books themselves can be powerful and dangerous is a prevailing theme. It’s scary to read, because this thought pops in, “Should I really be reading this?” People in the story who read books about Dracula are given a special blank book, with a wood cut print of a dragon in the middle. Then terrible things happen to them. (If you really want to freak me out, just leave a blank book with a dragon picture in the middle somewhere around my house. I won’t sleep for a week.)
4. The narrator remains nameless throughout the story, which begs the question, “Is the narrator really Elizabeth Kostova? Is this a true story?”
5. I’ve never been to Eastern Europe during the reign of the Soviet Union, but now I feel like I have, a little bit.
6. This book reveals the inner workings of a secret society!
7. The Historian is a fairly long book, over 600 pages, and if you really love the writing style like I did, it’s nice to luxuriate in that story for a few weeks. I liked that it was long.
So, basically, I liked everything about The Historian. I rate it five out of five Birds in Beards.