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Review: The Historian

Elizabeth Kostova's first novel is a sprawling epic for bookish people; it takes all the stiff and formal flavor of Stoker's Dracula and adds another layer by making her main characters academics. It is, in other words, perfect for bibliodorks such as myself who wish we would stumble across clues to ancient conspiracies in our local research library. (The Suzzallo stacks would be ideal, I think).

The Historian (Amazon) suffers some first novel issues with the ending and with length (700 pages!), but the writing itself is often shivery good. The story unrolls partly in narrative and partly as an epistolary novel using letters written during the 1940s, 50s, and 80s. Kostova makes those transitions between past and present work for her; the past always seems to illuminate the present, entirely appropriate for a historical novel. The chapters themselves aren't gory, but in the Stoker vein are so suspenseful that they're never hard to follow. The action roams all over Eastern and Central Europe and includes a bit of family drama as well as the underlying mystery.

I read parts of this book by candela light. and felt only mildly pretentious. It seemed to call for it. If you enjoyed Name of the Rose or if you thought Damn Dan Brown's book was much too lightweight, this might be just the ticket.

The Historian: ★★★★☆

Comments

( 6 sutras — Your wisdom )
bruceb
Feb. 4th, 2006 10:26 pm (UTC)
I'm a quarter of the way through it in an unabridged reading from Audible and having a grand time so far.
peartreealley
Feb. 4th, 2006 11:59 pm (UTC)
Have you read The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason? It'll probably be light-weight in comparision, but it's among the books that I so lovingly call "academic porn". I didn't really like The Name of the Rose, though, and I haven't gotten to Dan Brown yet--still waiting on a loaner or paperback.

I've heard back and forth on The Historian. Maybe I'll give it a go one of these days. *look at TBR stacks* ... one of these years.
the_monkey_king
Feb. 5th, 2006 04:57 am (UTC)
Yeah, I keep meaning to read the Caldwell books. Thanks for the reminder to put them back on my list.

"Academic porn" is about right.
wrdnrd
Feb. 5th, 2006 02:32 am (UTC)
Sounds interesting. (I'm a big fan of Eco's. Loved Foucault's Pendulum.) Thanks for the tip! My Seattle Public Library queue position is currently 250, so perhaps in another year i can tell you if i liked it. ;)
the_monkey_king
Feb. 5th, 2006 04:57 am (UTC)
Same story here, I was at #400 for a while. Fortunately, it's a quick read for a book of its heft.
storytellersjem
Feb. 6th, 2006 09:45 am (UTC)
I enjoyed it.

Here's a little review I did of it recently

<<<

Tale focuses on whether Dracula truly still exists in vampire/undead form.

Most of the tale is told through backstory and letters. In itself, this is quite a feat for a novel.

People who appreciate History as well as a mystery with esoteric/intellectual sprinklings will most likely find this tale appealing. There is a great deal of focus on academic types and their personalities as well, so, be sure you want to spend time with such characters.

I found it quite entertaining, and, even though I skimmed certain parts, I kept going all the way through tne novel. That's the impatient side of me, I suppose. Heh. I found the climatic ending a bit off but I won't say more so that spoilers aren't given.

Worthy of best seller ranking though.

Enjoy.
( 6 sutras — Your wisdom )

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