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The Quilty Reader

Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Game host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.

Way too long

The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova

If you've seen my updates, you'll probably remember that I was pretty excited about this book back at the beginning. Unfortunately, that excitement didn't continue through to the end.


This book was 704 pages long.


The story was probably worthy of 50% of that length. 


It had its positives - the writing is elegant and Kostova does a good job with the gothic atmosphere being created. I enjoy [some] descriptive passages, and this book had some good ones.


The problem is that the author was telling a story, within a story, within a story. The primary narrator, Eva, is the daughter of Helen and Paul, who are the subject of the level 2 story. Helen is the daughter of Bartholomew Rossi and Helen's mother, a Bulgarian (or possibly Hungarian or Romanian) peasant whom Rossi has met on his travels. Rossi's story is the Level 3 narrative. All three of these individuals are searching for information about Dracula.


So, to put it mildly, there are a lot of narrative changes to keep track of - we go from 1970's (Eva's narrative) to 1950's (Paul's narrative) to 1930's (Rossi's narrative). Much of the story is told as retrospective - as though Paul is telling the story to Eva, and we get two levels of hearsay, when Paul is telling Eva what he has previously been told by Rossi. These narrative changes are unmarked, and occasionally it takes a few moments to figure out where we are in the story line.


I gather from my research that Kostova was attempting to write a novel in the style of a Victorian sensation novel, along the lines of Wilkie Collin's "The Moonstone." She uses some of the same epistolary style that Collins used in his story telling. Unfortunately, I think she over did it, and she spent so much energy on her gimmick that she sort of forgot to tell her story. The ending, in particular, was clumsy and ineffective.


So, would I recommend it? Honestly, I would not. It simply takes too damned long to get to the destination, although the scenery on the trip is quite dramatic and beautiful.