Monday, January 17, 2011

Dracula Review

Dracula by Bram Stoker

(from the book jacket)
Jonathan Harker, a young solicitor, is summoned by the mysterious Count Dracula to his castle in Transylvania to finalize a property deal. Little does Harker suspect that by signing over English property to the count he is unleashing a terrible evil on his countrymen. Against this threat, Dr. Van Helsing forms his team of vampire slayers, pitting telegrams, trains, and revolvers against Dracula’s army of ghouls and lunatics.
In this story of a prim and arrogant society threatened by a supernatural force, Stoker captured the fears of his age. Dracula represents everything respectable Victorians feared: the irrational, the pagan, the erotic, and the foreign. Dracula had been imitated and adapted for cinema many times. It remains as exciting and relevant today as when first published in 1897.

I went into this book with preconceived notions. Some of them were confirmed but some of them were not. I can read it after having watched a lot of vampire and Dracula movies and still feel the suspense. Stoker does a good job of setting a very creepy scene in the beginning of the story when Jonathan Harker first starts on his journey and there are moments throughout were you can feel the menace of Count Dracula and a sense of dread in the characters. But sometimes it is almost lost in the minutiae of where people were sitting at the table or in the long speeches of the characters some of which seem to go nowhere. The entire book is told in journal entries and newspaper articles so you get different voices and different viewpoints on the events. It doesn’t take long to get used to keeping track of the dates and who is talking at the time but you do have to pay attention to both. It also lets you in on the feelings and thoughts of the people writing. Which is both a good and a bad thing. I think it adds to the terror and suspense of the story to know the doubts and fears and inner turmoil of the characters but they do tend to be very verbose. Everyone is going on about how noble everyone else in the party is, how brave the men, how sweet the women, Mina is put forth as an example of the best of womankind, and Mina herself goes on about how lucky she is to have such strong men around her to protect her. It turns into a mutual admiration society that just won’t quit. And I like Van Helsing as a character, he is a nice old man who is doing what he thinks is right at all costs and he is the one who keeps reminding the others that there is more at stake (no pun intended) than life and death and they are in a struggle against evil, doing God’s work and fighting for people’s very souls. And you like him and do think he is noble just like everyone keeps saying but he’s also didactic and goes on and on about everything. And it is all taken down faithfully, verbatim, in his broken English. There is a lot of narrative here and there are long stretches where you don’t see much of Dracula at all, just hints that his presence is affecting people. Although some times you didn’t see the connection at first. After a fast start the story unfolds slowly and if you do not like or have no patience for long build ups and internal dialogs then parts will be very tedious. I enjoyed the book. I thought Dracula was suitably creepy and the setting dark. I did get annoyed with the characters sometimes and there were moments when I thought they were being rather dense and couldn’t believe they hadn’t caught on to this or that but most of them were likable enough. I liked the long build up that made you wonder what Dracula was doing and let you see the lives of the people, happy at first, and then how they changed with Dracula’s coming. It is rather long and though there are moments of action it does not exactly proceed at a breakneck speed. It’s a good story and, in many ways, timeless but like many classics I believe there will be people who will find it rather boring.

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