30 November 2010

Book review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

It seemed about time that to read this gothic classic. It didn't seem right to read it during the summer, given it's dark nature, so I waited for cold, dark and rainy November before reading it.

Like so many classics, I could have given you a reasonable appraisal of the plot before I'd even read it. However, vampire folklore has become so convoluted in recent years with the pop culture of Buffy, Twilight and True Blood that it could be hard to discern the wheat from the chaff. However, I hoped to come to this with as open a mind as possible. The book is divided into two very distinct parts. The opening third of the book is set in Transylvania, and gives the account of Jonathan Harker’s time as a guest in Castle Dracula. This section reads almost like a short story, with the rest of the book being tagged on the end to make it into a novel.

The style of writing is that of a composition of letters, journals, telegrams and memoranda from various characters, although Stoker has spent little effort in distinguishing the individual voices from their writings. i.e. all the characters write with the same mannerisms. This makes the book feel like an early literary equivalent of “found footage” films such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, and I think that they do owe some debt to Stoker for this style.

This first third is an absolute masterpiece and the zenith of gothic fiction. The remainder, where the action moves to England, is still good, but doesn’t quite live up to the blistering opening. There are a number of new characters suddenly introduced into the plot, though the author only expands on a few of these, with 2 characters in particular, having a very similar role in the book, though with little to distinguish between them. The flow of the book is very good for the most part, though Stoker’s keen interest in hypnotism led him to use it as a plot device in some places, which left me feeling a bit cheated, considering how contrived it felt.

But that shouldn’t detract from a classic book. While it has been copied and derived from since, none have come close to Stoker’s original. I would highly recommend this to anyone considering reading it.

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