Jennifer Graham's Reviews > The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
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May 11, 12

Read in May, 2012

Cold war era vampires, you say? A postmodern Gothic? An examination of Carpathian politics and post-colonialism? An intellectual thriller? Vlad the Impaler plus Dracula, secret societies, musty old tomes, evil librarians? All of these promises got me in the door. It sounded like my kind of book exactly.

The problem is the book seems to lack the focus to truly follow any one of these promises to completion (except the evil librarians; those are actually pretty amusing). The thrills of this thriller are subservient to the clunky and stale rhetorical devices of a Gothic romance (and I love Gothic romance, but here the tropes are recycled rather than revised--there's not enough postmodern kick to the form to revive it). The intellectual discourse on human evil and Cold War politics are a little undermined by thriller--while I think the premise of Vlad Dracula hovering ominously over the 20th century is full of potential, she doesn't end up getting much mileage from the contrast. And the vampires are more or less Stoker vampires, with little to reinvent them.

On the positive end Kostova's writing is beautifully researched and her sense of setting is remarkable. This would be a good travel companion to Eastern Europe if it didn't weigh a thousand pounds (take it on your e-reader and you'll have a grand time). She captures the tension of the police state better than she does the horror of the vampire.

But at least the vamps did not sparkle.
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