Bunk? The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova (2005)

The Historian is one of those books that should be brilliant but isn’t, and I’m not sure why it isn’t. Mysterious archives, medieval documents, a search for Dracula, all stuff that should make for a great read. It’s not a short book either, but whatever the reason I found it a drag.

Perhaps there were too many first person narratives, although I didn’t have any difficulty in keeping track of who was doing the narrating at any one point. I think, possibly too much was at a remove, and thus too distant to engage the reader. A brief synopsis should give the general idea.

In 2008 a fifty something professor reflects on an adventure she had when she was sixteen. This was my first problem, I think. Why did we need this forty year remove from part of the story? It gets better. It began when she found a very strange book amongst her father’s papers. It’s completely blank except for a woodcut of a very strange dragon on the centre pages, and is clearly very old indeed. She asks her father about it, and eventually he begins to tell a very strange story, in dribs and drabs over the coming months. The father’s narrative is also in first person, and describes what happened when he was a graduate student in the early fifties, beginning with his finding the strange book on his desk in the university library. Within the father’s narrative are yet other narratives, mostly in letter or diary form told by his professor about events that occurred in the early thirties, describing research he conducted then on finding a really strange book on his desk. Several other characters have a copy of this book, linking them together. The reason why they have them seems ultimately pretty silly but I won’t spoil the surprise.

On reflection I’m not sure what the woman’s narrative adds to the story, her part of the tale could easily have been covered in an epilogue, leaving us to concentrate on the main part of the story which is the father’s narrative, and cutting at least two hundred pages from the book.

I suppose I am dissatisfied with the book because ultimately something that should have been a zinger to read was actually pretty boring. Had it grabbed me I would have read all 600 pages in a couple of nights. As it was it took me over two weeks. Nuff said.

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5 responses to “Bunk? The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova (2005)

  1. I think it was just too long. Too much travel, too many small details/clues that didn’t seem very exciting, and the final meet-dracula climax lasted about 4 pages. I thought the hand of a skilled editor would have improved it immensely.

  2. It was very much too long, and you’re right a decent editor would have made such a difference. All that build up and then bleh, over in minutes.

  3. I didn’t like the way the father’s story was broken up and then taken up a chapter later. Far too bitty. It stopped at points in his story that no one would have stopped at naturally. Also the book was too long. I took it along with me for holiday reading and found it became a chore to finish.

  4. I thought the book was great! It was a bit long, but I liked how descriptive it was without being dull. I loved every second of it. It was one of the best books I read this year.

  5. Music Man
    Length in itself isn’t a problem, but the story has to warrant it, and this one didn’t. Separate narrative strands aren’t necessarily a problem either provided they’re well done. But I certainly found this a chore to read too.

    EC
    Each to their own. At least we’re both agreed that there’s a good story in there.

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