April 18th, 2009

the pale shadow

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

AKA: The Vampire Wants a Wife Librarian

This novel was an absorbing read, but ultimately its slow pace frustrated me. It is a much more literary and realistic academic thriller, on the same page as Indiana Jones or The Da Vinci Code but so much more grounded in reality (it's closer to Possession, actually), and yet, that reality was what weighed it down. It reads like what it purports to be, a collection of primary sources woven into coherency by the lightest touch of the narrator. It's a very good imitation of history. However, history is not a narrative, while a novel is, or should be. The historian should have edited more, filled in some gaps and explained everything, or would that make it untrue, and no longer history? What's the line between truth and fiction, anyway? What really happened? And does it matter?

In a nutshell, The Historian is about the search for Dracula, or Vlad Tepes. Collapse )

So supposedly vampires are back in fashion, although I don't think they ever really went away. If the zombie represents a fear of the loss of individual identity, then what does the vampire represent today? What do we fear in it? Is it being preyed on? I maintain that Twilight strips its vampires of all threats, for all Edward's posturing about how terrible he is (his motto may as well be, "Tell me how bad I am. It makes me feel so bad!"). Those books only make me fear for my uterus, lest I suddenly find myself pregnant with a teething half-vampire baby. For me, the threat of the vampire was gone the moment I opened Interview with the Vampire and found that the immortal life is much like the mortal one, and vampires are people too. Buffy did a lot for this, too, because in that show most of the time the vampires were evil, but most of them had stories and some of them were worth loving. What about the taboo of drinking blood, is that still relevant to vampires today? I'm wondering because really, I'm a one-vampire-canon woman. I haven't the time nor inclination to read the scores of vampire stories out there, or watch all the TV shows and movies, although I do still prick up my ears when I hear mention of the word. (And one day I'll watch more Being Human, and see some True Blood, etc.) I know what attracted me to Anne Rice's vampires, but I don't always see the attraction in a non-Ricean vampire. And I have zero interest in a vampire who is only a vampire. I like shades of grey.

There was one particularly good quote in The Historian that I do want to remember:

"The thing that haunted me that day, however [...] was not my ghostly image of Dracula, or the description of the impalement, but the fact that these things had -- apparently -- actually occurred. If I listened too closely, I thought I would hear the screams of the boys, of the 'large family' dying together. For all his attention to my historical education, my father had neglected to tell me this: history's terrible moments were real. I understand now, decades later, what he never could have told me. Only history itself can convince you of such a truth. And once you've seen that truth -- really seen it -- you can't look away."