We’ve talked about this before.  A poorly written book with a good story at its core can still be very interesting.  In fact in a lot of cases, it will be wildly popular and ridiculously lucrative.  A badly written book can still compel you to keep reading.  Even as you wince and groan at the language, you keep pursuing the ending.  You want to see the story unfold, so you stick with it.


For the past two weeks, I’ve been slogging through the over 600 pages of The Historian, lugging its hardcover heft to work and back (so much so the binding broke) and all I can think is that 1) Thankfully I read this book when I was commuting by train again and 2) I’m glad I only paid $6 for this book.

This book commits a crime greater than just being poorly written.  It’s a repetitive, drab, pedantic history lesson yes, but that could be forgiven (I loath little more than a character summarizing what another character has just said – apparently for the remedial reader’s benefit).  The problem is that between verbose and awful, awful prose (example – “It was too serious to not be taken seriously”) there are hidden gems like this one:

“. . .but it seemed to me now that a Catholic church was the right companion for all these horrors. . .I somehow doubted that the hospitable plain Protestant chapels that dotted the university could be much help; they didn’t look qualified to wrestle with the undead. ”

Sounds intriguing right?

It should be anyway.  Sadly, it’s not.  The book generally feels like an airless crypt and such passages are sporadic, viable breaths that keep you from suffocating.  I keep saying to myself – this book is about Dracula– how can it be tedious?  I can’t help but think the author is trying to impress the reader with her obviously broad knowledge of history, but it’s not working (Ms. Kostova, for a lesson on how to do this well, read Susanna Clarke).  So she pays more attention to repetitive historical detail than to plot construction or character development.  For instance, why didn’t she just tell the story from the daughter’s point of view?  Or just from the father’s?  This shuffle back and forth doesn’t do justice to either of them.  I applaud her attempt to cross the generational line and to show the grandmother-daughter-granddaughter connection, but it’s too ambitious and awkwardly done.

Oh I’ll finish it, if only on the confused principle that I’ve already devote so much time (and about 400 pages) to it that a little more isn’t going to hurt.

But I have a feeling that the evil lurking at the end of this book isn’t the great vampire himself, or even his hordes of the undead.

I’m afraid it might be a pop history quiz.