"But history, it seemed, could be something entirely different, a splash of blood whose agony didn't fade overnight, or over centuries."
When faced with a reading slump, my usual strategy is to revisit an old favourite. And so last week, I found myself pulling The Historian off my shelf and settling in for a gothic treat. The unnamed narrator of The Historian discovers a strange book in her father's library, containing a sinister and old-fashioned woodcut of a dragon. Unable to get this image out of her mind and frustrated by her father's avoidance of the topic, her own research leads her to find out about Vlad Tepes, the historical Dracula. As she delves deeper into his history, the story of her father and of the professor who disappeared in mysterious circumstances slowly reveal themselves. It's the start of a journey punctuated by strange occurrences that will lead her across Europe to the tomb of the impaler himself.
I just love this book! It contains so many of the things I love in fiction; a gothic atmosphere, an intellectual mystery, a nested/embedded narrative structure, the inclusion of letters from the characters and travel to wonderful places. Reading The Historian makes me want to walk along the bridges of Budapest, visit the archives of Istanbul and see the beautiful countryside of Eastern Europe. I love it when a book transports you to another place so clearly as The Historian does, it completely took me away from real life and carried me along with the story.
I also love how carefully information is revealed by Kostova. The novel has an unusual narrative structure where the girl's story is told alongside her father's and that of Professor Rossi. Information is slowly doled out across the chapters, allowing all three stories to build up at the right moment. The links between the three stories are clever and I love how Kostova used existing information about Vlad Tepes and twisted it subtly, just enough, to make it fit with her plot. As someone interested in history, I enjoyed that so many of the 'original documents' in the story were reproduced and as readers, how we get to follow the thought processes of the characters.
Although this is a vampire story, readers expecting a fast pace or full-out horror will be disappointed. The Historian is a meandering book full of twists and turns and the horror elements are more subtle than you might expect. As I love gothic classics, this works perfectly for me. I love this book and don't hesitate to recommend it!
You will enjoy The Historian if:
- You liked Dracula by Bram Stoker.
- You love reading gothic fiction curled up in front of a fire.
- You like an intellectual mystery.
- You're an armchair traveller
Source: Personal copy
Score: 5 out of 5