**spoiler alert** I read this 20 years ago, and was disappointed.
It was the book equivalent of a remake of Dracula in an American setting, and not we**spoiler alert** I read this 20 years ago, and was disappointed.
It was the book equivalent of a remake of Dracula in an American setting, and not well done. Having read Dracula, this was entirely predictable. I've re-read Dracula several times, and enjoed it, but the first reading of this was not nearly as enjoyable as the fourth reading reading of Dracula...more
When I was a child we had this work on our bookshelves, in three volumes, just like the one in the illustrations, but they disappeared in several moveWhen I was a child we had this work on our bookshelves, in three volumes, just like the one in the illustrations, but they disappeared in several moves, when my mother got rid of a lot of surplus possessions. I read many of the stories but my favourites, the ones I reread many times, were those in the "horror" section, and it was this book that gave me a taste for horror stories.
It was more than fifty years ago now, but the stories that made the biggest impression on me, that I read and re-read, were "The Wendigo" by Algernon Blackwood and "Couching at the door" by D.K. Broster. After the books disappeared I sometimes wanted to read them again, but I could only remember the titles, and not the names of the authors, and I thought I would never find them again.
And then along came the Internet, with its access to knowledgeable people, and other resources. A web search engine quickly found the authors of both these stories, and "The Wendigo" was available in downloadable form. ...more
It was on the "horror" shelf of the book shop, it had been reprinted, and was going cheap. I'd never read anything by the author before, So I thoughtIt was on the "horror" shelf of the book shop, it had been reprinted, and was going cheap. I'd never read anything by the author before, So I thought it might be OK for some light bedtime reading. I suppose it does fit into the horror genre, just. It's also a sort of half-baked whodunit (one of the main characters is a detective, though he doesn't do much detecting.
I suppose in that there are some very faint echoes of Phil Rickman, who seems to hover uncertainly between the supernatural horror and whodunit genres, with his more recent works leaning (to my disappointment) to the latter. But Rickman's books have character and plot; this book has neither. And Shaun Hutson seem to try to cover over the lack of such things by playing the grossout card, right from the very first chapter, going over the top with blood and gore. Oh and the obligatory sex scenes with "throbbing members" -- it was, after all, first published in the 1980s, when most publishers seemed to make such scenes obligatory. In this book, however, they are combined with the "fetid stench" of still-throbbing freshly disembowelled entrails. The trouble is that when you have a "fetid stench" in every second chapter (and there are seventy chapters) one's sense of literary smell tends to become a bit jaded.
The book has a bunch of archaeologists who discover a cave with inscriptions and skeletons. Some of them meet with nasty accidents, which apparently serve no purpose in the plot other than to provide the occasion for another grossout. The archaeologists seem to know as little about archaeology as the detectives do about detecting.
I've read quite a number of vampire novels, but found none to compare with Bram Stoker's Dracula. I've read Dracula several times, but all the othersI've read quite a number of vampire novels, but found none to compare with Bram Stoker's Dracula. I've read Dracula several times, but all the others were disappointing.
I suppose I might have enjoyed 'Salem's lot by Stephen King if I had not aleady read Dracula several times; it might then have come to me as something fresh and exciting. As it was, it seemed entirely predictable.
I read Interview with the vampire by Anne Rice because someone had told me about it, and forced myself to stick it out to the end, boring as it was, just to be able to say I had actually read it, and did not dismiss it as not worth reading just from prejudice.
The historian is the first vampire book I have read that seems to be a fitting sequel to Dracula. Not only is it a fitting sequel, I think it surpasses the original.
Perhaps I should digress from the books for a moment to describe an interesting event that took place at the University of South Africa nearly 20 years ago. Some people came and delivered a lecture on Dracula. They were from the Transylvanian Society of Dracula in Romania, and for them Dracula, as in Bram Stoker's novel, was a new and exciting discovery. With the fall of the Communist Party regime a few years before, Romania had a sudden influx of tourists and journalists looking for Dracula's castle. At first Romanians had no idea what they were talking about, because Dracula had only been published in Romanian in 1990. The Ministry of Tourism set up a group to research this, and they decided that it was a tourist gold mine, and so they renovated an old castle and renamed it "Dracula's Castle", and turned it into a kind of vampire Disneyland to cash in on the tourist trade.
Their historical investigations did not turn up an original for Stoker's Count Dracula (Stoker's story was rather set in Styria, in Austria), but they did turn up a rather bloodthirsty ruler, a Prince of Wallachia (one of the three provinces of Romania, the others being Transylvania and Modldavia) whose epithet was Vlad the Impaler, and who appeared to enjoy impaling invading enemies and his own subjects on stakes. His enemies included the invading Ottoman Turks, and the neighbouring Kingdom of Hungary, and he seemed to be the the historical figure who came closest to being a model for Bram Stoker's arch-villain.
Elizabeth Kostova builds on this, and unambiguously links Dracula the vampire to the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler, with three generations of historians investigating the legends by doing research in various libraries. To say more about the plot might be a spoiler, but I can say something about the way the plot is constructed.
After a hundred or so pages I became curious about the author and her background, because, in spite of the book being set in at least three different historical periods (the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1970s) in several different countries, I spotted no glaring anachronisms. In addition, there were references to several different periods of medieval history, and again, the settings seemed authentic.
The Wikipedia article on Elizabeth Kostova notes that a very high price was paid for it
Publishers Weekly explained the high price as a bidding war between firms believing that they might have the next Da Vinci Code within their grasp. One vice-president and associate publisher said "Given the success of The Da Vinci Code, everybody around town knows how popular the combination of thriller and history can be and what a phenomenon it can become.
That was very interesting, because one outstanding feature of The da Vinci code was its bad history and worse plot, made worse still by Dan Brown's spurious claims that the historical background was accurate. It is a claim that Elizabeth Kostova could justifiably have made, but, with more modesty than Dan Brown, didn't.
I spotted just one, very minor, anachronism -- a character referred to his having grown up in Cumbria twenty years before Cumbria became an official county name -- before that a person would be more likely to have said "Cumberland", or "Westmorland", or possibly "The Lake District". There may be others, of course, but if there were they weren't so glaringly obvious as to be distracting, like the errors in The da Vinci code. The descriptions of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and the fall of Constantinople in 1453 seem to be pretty accurate, and are also informative.
Descriptions of life in Orthodox monasteries are also fairly accurate, as are those of of some folk-religion customs, such as fire-walking.
Bram Stoker manages to avoid this difficulty when writing about contemporary England, though his knowledge of the geography and folk-religion of the Balkans was derived entirely from books, and was sketchy, to say the least. But his story holds up in spite of that, and in spite of the plot flaws it remains a good read. Kostova manages to get in all three -- a combination of history cum thriller cum horror story that comes off well. She uses some of Stoker's techniques -- telling the story through letters written by the characters, and also uses some of the conventions that Stoker established for vampire folklore -- that vampires are afraid of crosses and garlic, for example. One of the things I do have some doubts about though, is that Kostova seems to invest Turkish worry-beads with a religious signficance analogous to Western rosaries, and therefore good for scaring of vampires. Greeks also use worry beads, but they seem to be purely secular, and quite different from the Orthodox prayer ropes that are closer to Western rosaries.
As an Orthodox Christian, this was one of the things that I found a bit unsatisfactory -- the main characters in the story were agnostic, yet the seemed to put great reliance on religious symbols like crosses for warding off vampires. This strikes me as being purely superstitious.
On the other hand, it probably does reflect the attitudes of many nominal Orthodox in Balkan countries, especially those that were deliberately secularised after several decates of atheistic communist rule.
But those are minor quibbles, and don't detract from enjoyment of the book, which is a very good read indeed.
I was looking for a no-brain-strain novel to read before going to sleep, read the blurb on a few, and picked this one, and brought it home a couple ofI was looking for a no-brain-strain novel to read before going to sleep, read the blurb on a few, and picked this one, and brought it home a couple of days ago.
It's a ghost story, sort of.
Three American high school boys are staying with their families in adjacent lakeside cottages for the summer. One family has rented an old house that has been unoccupied since the previous owner disaappeared a few years previously, in mysterious circumstances, but the reader already knows that he drowned in the lake trying to escape the voices in his head.
The boys discover a hidden room in an outbuilding with a lot of broken or dismantled objects, a table without a leg, a hacksaw without a blade, a doctor's bag without surgical implements, a lamp without a shade. There's an old ledger that shows that exorbitant prices were paid for some of these.
Then the boys start having identical nightmares of violence, in which one or all of them are involved. When some of the nightmares start coming true, they get scared, and think they myst keep away from the hidden room, but something keeps drawing them back.
It's an interesting plot idea, and at times I thought it might be a four star book, but in the end the author chickens out, and it degenerates into an unconvincing slasher story, a bit of an anticlimax after the build-up, and the symbolism of the objects isn't really made clear.
But still, wasn't looking for great literature when I bought it, just light bed-time reading.
The author is John Saul, who is apparently not the same as John Ralston Saul, another author whose books I have read. ...more
Phil Rickman's books are difficult to find, and one buys them when one can. This was one of his earlier ones, which we hadn't read. Many of his otherPhil Rickman's books are difficult to find, and one buys them when one can. This was one of his earlier ones, which we hadn't read. Many of his other books have characters that appear again, but this one is in a different setting, with different characters.
The characters are not as convincing as those in some of his other books. It is more tinged with horror and dark and evil forces. His later novels, especially in the Merrily Watkins series, turn out to be more like whodunits, and one misses the supernatural chills.
In many ways I should not have liked it as much as I did. And I think the reason I liked it is that I have been in the kind of situations he describes. He gets the relationship between Christianity and paganism better aligned in his later books -- the kind of situation he portrays in The man in the moss has been shown to be historically inaccurate in England. But it is in many ways true to life in parts of Africa. It may be wrong in its setting, but move it to another setting, and it becomes true to life. ...more