How is it that I had not heard of one of America’s most bestselling female authors in the literary genre and only stumbled across her first novel by accident when perusing the bargain bin at Borders? I suppose I was too deeply entrenched in my thesis in 2005 to do much outside reading. Whatever the reason for my delayed discovery, I am very pleased Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian found its way in my hands.
A little research into the novel and Kostova reveals the impact this novel had on the publishing world. It took Kostova a decade to finish the 642 page novel and she received an offer from a company a mere two months after submitting the manuscript. She refused the offer and a bidding war ensued. The result? She sold the manuscript for two million dollars. In the publishing world, this is simply unheard of -she was an unknown author. But the powers that be in the industry saw exactly what I saw – this could be the next The Da Vinci Code. As of 2005, it was the fastest-selling hardback debut in US history – I haven’t checked to see if it still holds this remarkable title. It’s made Kostova filthy rich and secured her a pretty sweet place in the literary world. Sony purchased the movie rights for 1.7 million and Kostova’s baby should be on the big screen at some point. I am quite pleased with this as the entire time I was reading the novel, I was thinking about what an awesome movie it could be. Kostova has urged those in charge to make sure an unknown face plays Dracula – I think this would be wise.
In short, The Historian is The Da Vinci Code with better writing, amazing descriptions, and vampires. The novel focuses around the idea that Dracula is still very much alive and that he actually follows (and urges) scholars to investigate him - when they get too close or they have exhausted their usefulness, they’re done away with. The unnamed female narrator has picked up the story from her father, who had gleaned several bits from his advisor and colleague at Oxford. Dracula chooses his scholarly victims by planting a book in their possession. The book is void of words and contains a die-cut dragon that awakens the natural curiosity of a scholar. The narrator finds her father’s copy and some other documentation and convinces him to tell her about it.
In the search to unravel her father’s past and find Dracula, the story also becomes a search for the maternal figure and a sense of individual identity. The novel also focuses and emphasizes the importance of story-telling and maintaining history through writing – it brings to life the idea that the pen truly is mightier than the sword. As a scholar and bookslut, I adored that theme and actually may have developed a bit of a crush on Dracula.
The novel is, at times, long and drawn out. Kostova combines the father’s story with present time and occasionally the novel teeters on boring as the process of discovery is slow. I can see why some readers abandon the book because it’s not as action packed as some of the other thrillers out there. But Kostova has a lot going for her in this novel, and The Historian is not just another thriller – it’s actually a pretty strong literary work that has the appeal of a summer thriller read. Genius. I love finding a novel with mass appeal that is more than mere fluff and formula.
I consider The Historian an amazing accomplishment and applaud the work and research that went into making this novel nearly flawless.