Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Historian

Last night I finally finished Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. I'm still trying to decide whether it's a good book or not.

It's very, very long.

If you ever wanted to know what it might be like to do Raiders of the Lost Ark but replacing the archeologist with a historian, then you'll be disappointed that the the book contains no ominous advancing boulders, hardly any guns and only negligible amounts of vodka.

But there is a huge amount of research. In fact, I got the feeling that Kostova might have spent years doing research on how historians do research, and couldn't bear to leave any details out of her novel. I'm fairly certain that this door-stopper of a book could easily have been half as long, without losing any of the story.

There were far too many transcripts of letters written by monks about trips around the Balkans. Worse, I was bothered by the unexplained, too-fortuitous meetings with complete strangers who turned out to have a connection to the big D (Dracula).

And so much of the story is told via letters - letters to the young girl from her historian father, letters to the father from his PhD supervisor, letters to the supervisor from his best mate, letters from the girl's mysteriously absent mother, and of course, letters between monks travelling around the Balkans with their bloodthirsty baggage. I know it's a literary device, but I couldn't help wondering why these people wrote such detailed letters - why didn't they just write a book and be done with it?

Last of all, the ending was predictable. And I'm not even one of those annoying people who see the plot twist in the first hour of the film and then tell everyone what's going to happen.

Having said that, I did manage to read the whole thing, and I only got bored with all the letter-reading about two thirds of the way in. So maybe if you've time to kill, like the idea of an adventure peopled by undead librarians and feisty academics, then this book wouldn't necessarily be a waste of money.


Anonymous said...

I read it ages ago - so I can't really remember but do recall that I started reading it and thought it was FANTASTIC and then it got progressively not so good - and the end was quite a let down.

More importantly, I've just discovered that the print run of the second Twilight book in Australia has sold out, so I have book 1, and books 3 and 4 enroute as birthday present - but no access to book 2!
What's with that!!!

oh and also meant to say a Vampire book that I quite liked recently is called 'Let the right one in' (or something like that - Swedish book). Was quite good.

Violet said...

yeah I've heard of that one - the Swedish one - might wait till it hits the library :-) I'm avoiding the Twilight books though, in case I actually like them. What I've heard about them makes them sound unappetisingly like Mills and Boon with fangs.

Laura said...

I w as also fairly ambivalent about "The Historian" - strong start, and somehow disappointing as it went on.

But the Twilight series... well, it isn't academic, but it's *very* compelling reading. I wouldn't quite say M&B - but certainly very digestible/accessible. I balked at the price of the books while in NZ, so I ordered the next 3 via Amazon in the UK. Can't wait for them to arrive!

Nigel Patel said...

Yeah, you hardly ever hear about monks getting liquored up & pitching boulders.
Would probably be more monks if they did.

Anonymous said...

Ha Laura and here I was thinking about sourcing the no. 2 book from New Zealand!

Twilight was a bit 'lovey dovey' but good concepts (although I've heard the concepts get less satisfying as you go along). But I've GOT TO find out what happens next!

Kazzer said...

You need to scan-read things like that. I really enjoyed the book reading it that way. At least it wasn't full of teenage angst like "Twilight".

Angela said...

I haven't had the energy to listen to any books lately. So it is probably not a book for now. I will keep it in mind when I feel like reading again.

Violet said...

To all of you Twilight fans - but what about the main argument against it, which is that it has the heroine repressing herself just to avoid accidentally setting off his bloodlust? It sounds a little like battered woman syndrom to me, eh?