The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Paperback; 689 pages
Back Bay Books
To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history…
A young, unnamed woman finds an odd book in the library along with letters that puzzle her. As it turns out, these letters once belonged to her father and the book has been gifted to her under the most curious of circumstances. The Historian is “a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself-to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago, when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive.”
Or, this is what Goodreads and the back cover told me, anyway. What it really might be about 450 pages too long. Don’t get me wrong, Kostova has a knack for crafting beautiful sentences. It’s just that she seems to get lost in it to the point where I found myself backtracking immensely to figure out what we were still talking about. Her writing is beautiful and for a first novel I will say this is exquisite word-wise. What it isn’t is compelling and intriguing.
The novel is written in such that large (very large) passages of text are quoted but without anything to indicate they are indeed quoted sentences. There are no quotation marks in many of these passages and, again, I had to re-read several of them to figure out which character was being quoted. It was tedious after awhile.
This was my book club book for the month of October and, sadly, I did not finish it in time for the meeting. However, only one person did and she was kind enough to not reveal the ending to us. I trudged on, however, determined that if I had already invested nearly a month and 500 pages worth of time into it I would be damned if I didn’t finish it.
I really did enjoy the premise of the story up to a certain point. The mystery was just enough to keep me interested but not enough that I didn’t nearly groan at the thought of picking the book up again. (Seriously, it’s never taken me this long to read a book!) Sadly, I found the climax of the storyline to be very disappointing (albeit humorous–which I’m certain was not the intended goal). Would I read Kostova again? It’s possible. Like I said before, for a first novel, the craftsmanship is fantastic. I’m just hoping for her second and subsequent novels she provides a more promising plot.
For those that do not have the intention of reading 689 pages to reveal said [humorous] plot, I will share it with you behind a cut. That said, BEWARE SPOILERS AFTER THE CUT.
SPOILERS ALERT: The unnamed girl finds her father’s curious books and won’t stop hounding him about it although in a very subtle way for a teenage girl. He relents and begins to describe the story of how he came to own the same book and some letters from his professor. Then we read the letters (in full) that the professor wrote that detail his extensive global travel and how he came to own a near exact replica of the same book. Eventually, it is connected that Vlad the Impaler (aka Vlad Dracul) seems to be at the heart of it–as in, these historians believe he is still alive and that he is actually a vampire. There is extensive, lengthy, beautiful descriptions of every aspect of travel each character embarks on. Eventually, Nameless Girl learns her Father married his Professor’s Daughter, whom he stumbled upon during his search for answers about the book and Dracula.
TL;DR — Dracula is kidnapping people by leaving these mysterious books for them, causing them to obsess over it’s origins, search the globe for it’s meaning and when he finally has someone that obsessed enough to find him…he makes them catalog his hidden library.
No, I’m not kidding. As a library assistant, I found this hysterical–to the point where I had to show it to all of our librarians who hate cataloging. Needless to say, it was a let down. I mean, really? Sounds like fun to me, so… yeah.