The Historian is an elegant masterpiece, mixing folklore with history, gothic terror and classic literature.
Written in the language style of nineteenth century books, this is the story of the myth of Dracula and the hunt for his tomb. The format is in the old style of storytelling via letters, crossing time spans and characters. This resonated with me as an historian as much of my own research consisted of studying personal letters that included philosophical ideas as well as personal anecdotes and thoughts. From the beginning this read like a classic with references to Bram Stoker's Dracula, which is also written in the epistolary format making is seem as if it were a contemporary of his.
There are no garish vampire neck-sucking antics but the subject of vampirism is chilling and sophisticated. The story is set in many places, including Istanbul, Hungary, France, Romania and England, and the descriptions of the landscape are very evocative and form a significant part of the narrative and atmosphere.
The 'Historian' initially appears to be the father of the narrator (an unnamed girl) but as the tale progresses other historians come to light, including Dracula himself. 'As I knew I could not attain a heavenly paradise ... I became a historian.' He also has a strange obsession with librarians.
The historical character is Vlad III, the Medieval ruler of the region now known as Romania. He was a cruel leader and his nickname of Vlad the Impaler was addressed with comparisons to other more modern ruthless leaders. The history and folklore are interwoven well to make this an eerie gothic tale.
There are many layers to this story, with characters exquisitely drawn and believable. The detail is uniquely arranged with regards to sights, sounds and smells, however there is a little too much of it when each and every sandwich is treated as an autopsy. Having said that, the food from different cultures is an interesting thread.
This is a long book with the pace of a nineteenth century novel, which is good. The only flaw is that the letters (being written by several different people at different times) all have the same voice, the same manner and detailed description of the writer's lunch. Given the vast feast that this novel is, Kostova is forgiven.
Published by Sphere on 6 June 2010.
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