Monday, February 25, 2008

The AT Book Review: The Historian

Today we bring you the first edition of the AT Book Review. Our review features a hefty tome from 2005, Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. (NOTE: Spoilers are included, so if this book is on your to-read list, skip to the end.)

Let me just start by saying that this was one bad book, all 642 pages of it. After plowing through a couple hundred pages over a few evenings, it took all my strength to keep coming back to it. I waited and waited for something -- anything -- to happen. Okay, okay, we get a few deaths, almost all "off-camera," one near-sex scene, several more-boring-than-usual academic conferences, and miles and miles of travelogue. Only the final item comes closest to being interesting.

The story: Dracula lives (sort of). And he's looking for a historian. Or an archivist (so he says). So Vlad goes and plants these special dragon-symbol books in various libraries and archives around the world, and several characters eventually unearth them. These discoveries inspire our heroes to hunt for Dracula's final resting place. Only each time they start their research, nasty things happen to the people around them. The novel follows a number of these unfortunates -- separately, and, for the reader, drearily together -- through much of the twentieth century, skipping back and forth from the 1930s, 50s, 70s, and the present day. Needless to say, blood is shed mysteriously, some characters behave menacingly, our heroes fret discouragingly, and the plot evolves adverbially.

There are two major problems with this book. First: Why, if Drac really wants to be found by these elite academics, does he then try to frighten them off? Why not just find some competent historian or archivist, make them undead, and solve your problem for all time? We eventually find out he's a discerning reader, has saved/acquired numerous priceless volumes, and has no trouble going anywhere in the world. What gives?

The second, and the biggest problem, is this: once we finally meet El Vladdo (nearly 600 pages in, mind you), he's captured one of our intrepid (read: doomed) hunters and has him begin ... Cataloging His Books! No research. No searching for more ancient tomes. Just making a catalog. Dracula finally has a world-renowned historian in his grasp, a classicist who probably knows even more than does Mr. Impaler, and he has the good professor catalog his library. I only hope our-soon-to-die professor has read his AACR2. (Kostova doesn't say.)

THE GOOD NEWS: Kostova received a $2 MILLION advance for this book. Maybe I should write a story about Dr. Frankenstein and his desire to archive his personal papers.

THE BAD NEWS: There may be a sequel. And a movie.

THE VERDICT: Unless you're an insomniac cataloger who wants to see archivists and academic historians kick the bucket, don't waste your time.


Sports Chic said...

Can you review The Archivist next? I started reading it a few years ago and had some issues with some of the ethics involved and it is now sitting on my shelf, bookmark still in place, collecting dust...

Archivalist said...

I dunno. The wife read it and hated it, so maybe I'll get her to guest-blog a review.