Thursday, March 22, 2012

SPL Shelf Life [adult]


The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I should own up to something right away: I am definitely one of those geeks fleshing out the market for vampire novels. I loved them when they were first in style, and Anne Rice was the queen of the genre. I kept the fire alive when pop culture became insufferably perky. Then, when Twilight brought vamps skulking back out, I could have chaired the Twi-hard fan club. In other words, when it comes to vamp lit, I suck. Happily. If you do, too, read on.

Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian opens with a teen girl perusing her father's library. She finds a troubling bundle of letters tucked into a book, all addressed “To my dear and unfortunate successor.” It's immediately plain her father (Paul) has been drawn into something unsavoury. After confronting her father, she's enveloped in a world of danger, intrigue, and glamorous academia.

Parallel plot lines pull the reader through a whirlwind tour of post-WWII Turkey, England, Romania and Hungary. Kostova has done her research on these many locales, and her descriptions of place and culture ring true (her depictions of communist Romania and Hungary are particularly entrancing). One plot line follows Paul's initial discovery of Vlad Dracula's continued existence, and the mad search for his mentor after Rossi's abduction by Dracula. Another follows the heroine's own desperate attempt to save her father's life, 20 years later.

In essence, The Historian is the Indiana Jones of vampire literature. Exquisitely researched and relentlessly paced, it features lots of travel, classic romance, gory history, and battles in crypts. Kostova has gone out of her way to put the monster back into vampires – no synthetic blood or sparkling in the sunshine, here. Her Dracula owes much more to Eastern European vampire folklore than to glam goth culture. And, if we use monsters in literature to exorcise what makes us most uneasy as a culture, it's worth noting that almost every vampire encountered is a librarian. If Stoker's vampires were working out cultural sex taboos, Kostova's express a deep unease with the use and transmission of information. This debut novel is highly recommended to fans of vamp lit, and to any historical fiction readers open to supernatural elements.

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on March 22, 2012. Written by Shauna Thomas, Librarian.   


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