AJ's Reviews > The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
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's review
Oct 07, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, horror-suspense

This book, while it had it's faults (which I'll list), was an exquisite read. I think as I review it you'll better understand my rating. First, the good.

Kostova is an extremely gifted writer. She proves this in two ways in the book: 1) writes in 4 parallel time periods, alternating between them so seamlessly the reader doesn't even think twice about it and 2) writes with a unique voice that seems to capture old world style and charm and modern ease and simplicity. It's quite remarkable.

Kostova's strengths are clear: her descriptions of Europe are the best I've ever read and I've never had such a feeling of actually sitting with the narrartor in a seaside Italian town sipping espresso and talking about history as when reading it from this book. Additionally her detailed research and her love of history and books are palpable and inspiring -- she has a gift to tranfer this to the reader with such ease but also, full of imagination and intrigue. It was captivating.

And now for the bad. I think most of the problems with this book can be summed up with one word: pacing. Kostova lets her strengths shine but toward the end they become a burden and tedious, her intense and real descriptions elbow their way in to the story instead of action and plot and slow down the suspense remarkably. The reader feels lurched about and the climax is so unexpected and shocking one has to wonder if it actually even happened. I found that so much attention was placed on historical events that when it got back to the present time I myself felt empty and hollow with regard to what happened to the main characters. In some parts Kostova spends too much time carefully crafting historical details and laying clues that she never fully explains and I had to wonder what half the point of the story was in adding things that were otherwise irrelevant when they could have been spent adding more time to connect us with the narrartor. Simply put, a lot of things just didn't make sense. The climax really needed some work, and perhaps another 20 pages.

In short, great concept, fantastic writing but felt short on execution of storytelling cadence and plot wrap up. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book to people as a "must read" I will definately be planning on picking up Kostova's next book and look forward to falling into her well crafted words again.

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