The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – Dark Academia but it’s just librarians

“ I felt sure, glaring at the children as they settled onto the sand with their shovels, that these creatures were never threatened by the grimness of history, either.”

Yes do tell oh I am so smart and special and I’ve heard of History, let me say it again for the plebes HISTORYHISTORY HISTORY, HAVE YOU HEARD OF HISTORY? OF COURSE NOT YOU UNCULTURED SWINE.

Premise

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a dark academia type thriller about Dracula and Harvard, set in beautifully stages cities such as Istanbul. So far so good, I don’t usually read thrillers but I thought if I were to, this would be the way to go.

I admit that I did not finish this book. In my defence, it’s something like 600 pages long. Now I don’t mind long books, but they have to be long for a reason. The combination of thriller + Dracula + Ivy Leagueness, I’m sure was one that the author thought was foolproof, in the same way that the minds behind Morbius thought that: Jared Leto + Vampires + Marvel would equally be a winning combination. In reality it somehow drains all the good out of all those elements and leaves you feeling hollow and vaguely annoyed. In book format it’s tedious enough that it can’t even pull off the campiness that is Jared Leto.

NittyGritty

Part of the problem lies in the characters themselves, I can tell the author is American because they think that going to Harvard is a fully rounded personality. I’m here to tell you it is not.

The thriller aspect falls through because this being about finding Dracula, the protagonists are essentially librarians, fancy librarians if you will but librarians all the same. And in librarian fashion they don’t make the chase particularly interesting, and the action seems to be confined to calling the bad guys “evil librarians” repeatedly and un-ironically. I thought it was a fluke, but then I gave in and I word searched it.

Additionally, it being replete with Ivy League characters there is a definitive lack of depth of any kind of wider narrative or point. That would be fine if the plot were engaging on its own. Alas, it was not for me.

Highlight

Having said that there was one passage that I felt was interesting and will come as a familiar look into the faces behind all of the research:

“Years later I understood better this first reaction in myself, the wariness I felt when I saw Turgut’s study, which might have been a room in Dracula’s castle, a medieval closet complete with instruments of torture. It is a fact that we historians are interested in what is partly a reflection of ourselves, perhaps a part of ourselves we would rather not examine except through the medium of scholarship; it is also true that as we steep ourselves in our interests, they become more and more a part of us. Visiting an American university—not mine—several years after this, I was introduced to one of the first of the great American historians of Nazi Germany. He lived in a comfortable house at the edge of the campus, where he collected not only books on his topic but also the official china of the Third Reich. His dogs, two enormous German shepherds, patrolled the front yard day and night. Over drinks with other faculty members in his living room, he told me in no uncertain terms how he despised Hitler’s crimes and wanted to expose them in the greatest possible detail to the civilized world. I left the party early, walking carefully past those big dogs, unable to shake my revulsion.”

The end

Maybe The Historian just wasn’t for me, but I found that the constant teasing of information as we pass between the present, the past, the other past, the other other past just annoyed me rather than made me want to read further to find out what was happening. It might just be that I’m not made for thrillers. Maybe as the book goes on it gets better, but I’m not prepared to pick it up again.

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