I was expounding on my love of Dracula to my poor long-suffering mother yesterday, and realized I should probably confine my effusions to a more opt-iI was expounding on my love of Dracula to my poor long-suffering mother yesterday, and realized I should probably confine my effusions to a more opt-in format.
I first read Dracula as a teenager, breathlessly turning pages of a library edition late at night while coyotes howled around the little bungalow where I was staying alone. Even as an adult, in less conducive conditions, the story holds up for me.
It is in deadly earnest, and the emotions are grand, the stakes high: if you can't put your cynicism aside, it probably isn't for you. It builds slowly, accumulating unease and unearthliness, until you reach the first vertiginous climax -- and then again, you return to normalcy, waiting to be slowly, sickly drawn to the next dramatic break in the fabric of the world. It takes a while to reach a breakneck pace, but it's well worth it.
I'd call Dracula an anxious book. Not just tense, or thrilling, but profoundly anxious. As a teenager, I found the Victorian anxiety about carnality and sex dripping from the pages interesting: Jonathan's revulsion from the incongruously lush lips of the Count, the menace of the castle ladies, and above all the hectic loveliness of Lucy. It's a terrifically clear look into the Victorian psyche, bringing the cultural subtext so close to the surface it pulses like an exposed vein.
As an adult, I've enjoyed the other thematic obsessions: the clash of science/technology/modernity with magic/superstition/occult; the West versus the East; the train and the typewriter set against ancestral earth and the evil eye; the pagan versus the holy; eternal carnal life at the cost of the heavenly beyond.
Perhaps others who aren't English majors, history readers, or obsessed with Victorian foibles and fables won't find those contrasts as compelling as I do, or greet the intrusion of shorthand, typewriters and railroad time tables with the same affection. But these themes play out on characters we care about, for all their occasional preciousness: the slightly fussy Jonathan, the garrulous Lucy, the careful and self-reliant Mina. They play out in deliciously high drama, memorable scenes, iconic images. A hundred years of progress and easing (or replacement) of cultural neuroses can't rob Dracula of its charm, its pathos, or its terror.
P.S. To audiobook readers: A multitude of unabridged productions exist, many of them with multiple readers to bring the diaries and letters of the various characters, male and female, English and Dutch, to life. I have bought, and often return to, the Brilliance Audio version. Most of the readers and accents are quite good, although Michael Page, who reads Seward's journals, is as usual scenery-chewing. I haven't tried the Audible original, chock full of famous names, so that might be another option -- but I do recommend getting one with multiple narrators, to really do the epistolary style justice. And do listen to samples -- there are some very fake English accents running around claiming to be Jonathan Harker of Exeter....more
This book suffered a little from rereading: there were clues in people's behavior on the night of the murder that were inexplicably not followed up foThis book suffered a little from rereading: there were clues in people's behavior on the night of the murder that were inexplicably not followed up for chapters, despite multiple mentions. There were a few leaps of logic, and at least one plot point I would have suggested editing out. I'm no expert on British law of the period, but some of the courtroom rulings seemed a little capricious or unlikely to me. Monk's retracing of his past seemed occasionally irresponsible in the face of his other duties. And let's not get into the 9 instances of the word "aquiline" that I counted.
However, it still works both as a mystery/courtroom drama and a rather searing commentary on Victorian society. I enjoy the Monk books partially for their flawed, human main characters and partly for the courtroom aspect. In these, Perry continues the story into the potentially frustrating and unjust world of Victorian law, with satisfying dramatic results. In general, I enjoy Perry's nuanced characterizations -- almost no one is fully innocent in her books, and most guilty parties have reasons, passions, ample humanity mixed with their turpitude. In this one, the drama comes from untenable situations as well as flawed and floundering humans, and I still found these compelling the second time around....more
Another excellent Aubrey-Maturin book, one of the more Stephen-focused volumes. Highlights for me include a volcanic encounter and Stephen's exploratiAnother excellent Aubrey-Maturin book, one of the more Stephen-focused volumes. Highlights for me include a volcanic encounter and Stephen's explorations in the Andes, but there are many other exciting events, including some near-run things in the naval battle line....more
A sad little book about some of the less well known casualties of World War II: animals in Tokyo's zoo. The watercolor illustrations are lovely, and tA sad little book about some of the less well known casualties of World War II: animals in Tokyo's zoo. The watercolor illustrations are lovely, and the story is moving. The small focus, on the lives of a few elephants, may be particularly effective in making the cost of war clear to young readers....more
This was the text for a History of Modern China course I took in undergrad. From that you can infer that it's very detailed and scholarly. However, itThis was the text for a History of Modern China course I took in undergrad. From that you can infer that it's very detailed and scholarly. However, it's also intensely readable: I've reread it for pleasure in the years since graduation.
The "Modern" China of the title is in the strict sense of Modern, in this case starting in the 17th century. That may seem a long time ago, but the context it gives to more contemporary events is rich and useful. I found the patterns and trends that emerged from this book, as well as the sense of China's journey as a nation, fascinating. The insights I got from this book help me understand a little better China's stance toward the world and place in it. Highly recommended....more
Fabulous political intrigue and the very satisfactory conclusion of a long-sustained narrative conflict. While much of the middle of the book is conceFabulous political intrigue and the very satisfactory conclusion of a long-sustained narrative conflict. While much of the middle of the book is concerned with Maturin's machinations in the Sultanate of Pulo Prabang, there are also some exciting nautical occurrences in the then largely uncharted South China Sea....more