Overall Impression: Longwinded; but ultimately a great atmospheric and tangible tale of the most notorious vampire in pop culture.
I have wanted to read this book for so long, that I almost can’t believe I’ve finally done it! As a girl who got caught up in the vampire craze of YA literature, I knew that at some point I would have to delve back in history to one of the original sources and inspiration; Dracula. While, like many others I had of course heard of Dracula from the constant stream of references, puns and parodies saturating our media, I never really had any knowledge of the details and plot twists it entailed. And I have to say in many ways, it was not at all what I was expecting! When I finished the book in the early hours of 5am I was almost left with the feeling that the whole tale was real, or at least, that it could have really happened.
This I think, is a large aspect of its appeal.
This book was also read for the belated Eclectic Reader Challenge for the horror genre.
Collected inside this book are diary entries, letters and newspaper clippings that piece together the depraved story of the ultimate predator. A young lawyer on an assignment finds himself imprisoned in a Transylvanian castle by his mysterious host. Back at home his fiancée and friends are menaced by a malevolent force which seems intent on imposing suffering and destruction. Can the devil really have arrived on England’s shores? And what is it that he hungers for so desperately?
Jonathan Harker is a young Englishman with the new burden of responsibility, and all he wants to do is succeed. So when he is sent to help the mysterious Count Dracula he does everything within his power to please him. It is not long however, until he starts to find a few strange things about the place. There seem to be no serving staff – or anyone else living around for that matter. Why does the Count never eat, and where does he skulk off to late at night? Soon Jonathan finds himself a prisoner inside the four cold hard walls of the castle and ominous shadows press in on him from all sides. As he wallows in despair Dracula makes his way across the waters to England with new victims in mind; Harker’s fiancée Mina, and her innocent friend Lucy.
When Lucy grows pale and sickly and complains of strange dreams and penetrating red eyes which cause her to sleepwalk, all those around her become uneasy and concerned. Enlisting the help of Van Helsing, the owner of an insane asylum and a few other willing men, will the group be able to piece together what is really going on? And how can they possibly stop it?
I must admit at first I had real difficulty getting into this book, mainly because of the way it was written. It started slowly with lengthy descriptions of Transylvania, and although I have a lot of patience for books it seemed dry and obtusely longwinded. Stoker certainly has a love of his semicolons! Phew. I had difficulty not zoning out, or I would get half way through a sentence and forget what he was going on about. But even though it was hard work, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by all the strange happenings. My curiosity soon got me interested in the book, and the further I got through it, the more I began to appreciate Stoker’s writing style and his peculiar way of phrasing things. I started seeing elegance in the drawn out sentences and a sort of rhythm to the prose. I loved all the gothic imagery that he created, it was so atmospheric and mysterious, the perfect setting for something supernatural. What struck me most about it though, was how real it all felt which is pretty impressive when your dealing with vampires – something not very realistic at all!
Here’s an eerie description I loved 🙂 :
‘It was a shock to me to turn from the wonderful smoky beauty of a sunset over London, with its lurid lights and inky shadows and all the marvelous tints that come on foul clouds even as on foul water, and to realize all the grim sternness of my own cold stone building, with its wealth of breathing misery, and my own desolate heart to endure it all.’
The structure of this book was also a really interesting choice, it gives the novel a feeling of sophistication which I think may have been lacking if Stoker had chosen to go the straight forward route. It’s all made up diary entries and the occasional newspaper article. In the book the characters comprise all their separate journal entries together into one big book in order to help them find clues about Dracula, and this leaves you with a weird book within a book feeling because it’s almost as if what you’re reading could be real, and that the whole thing could be non-fiction. Pretty cool. 🙂
The most fascinating thing about the structure though, is the way each different characters diaries entries, their separate thoughts and experiences slowly weave together to create a literary patchwork quilt. Rather than reading all about Dracula himself, you instead find yourself reading about each person’s vague impressions of him and his foreboding ominous presence that seems to be found at every turn. I was surprised, but loved how Dracula wasn’t actually in most of the book. The parts that he was in were actually my least favourite parts, it was a much more compelling read when seeing the threat of his presence through the eyes of others.
However I did have one slight logical issue with it, in their diaries they would write down the details of these massive conversations in big chunks. Now I don’t know about you, but I can barely remember short conversations well by the end of the day, let alone massive ones to write in my diary. Maybe that’s just nitpicking though.
The plot is intriguing, but overall very slow moving. For the most part this wasn’t an issue for me but I wouldn’t recommend it as a read for those who like a lot of action in their books. Still, at points I could not put the book down, I had to find out what was going to happen next! I kept telling myself I would stop at the next chapter break but I just had to keep reading. After such a long build up the ending seemed a little abrupt, but I think this is probably more of a reflection of the time it was written in, before you needed fireworks and big explosions for the big finale.
It was also quite funny, at times I found myself sighing and thinking ‘gosh this is so clichéd!’ I really had to kick myself and think – no, this is the original! This is where all the clichés came from. It was quite a difficult thing for me to get my mind around! I will also confess that I didn’t find the book scary at all. As Dracula is a horror book this surprised me. So I would also say don’t be put off reading this book because you scare easily, because it’s really not that bad!
The characters were all really interesting and fleshed out, once again they felt like people that you could meet on the street in real life – you know, if you lived in the 19th century. 😛 Jonathan Harker was the only one I didn’t particularly warm to but the rest by the end of the novel I had a fuzzy affection for. Dr Seward was endearing and his constant struggle with science vs the supernatural made for a really interesting read. Dr Van Helsing (while no Hugh Jackman) is driven by his tragic past to fiercely protect those around him. He is a constant source of insight, strength and at times philosophy. A lot of the quotes I liked came from him. Renfield the mental patient was also a fascinating character and whenever he appeared I was glued to the book.
I was somewhat apprehensive about the female representations in the book due to some research I did for an essay but it turned out to be less aggravating than I thought. Lucy although sickly sweet and coddled was like Dr Seward endearing and ultimately very likable with her childlike persona. I was pleasantly surprised by the portrayal of Mina too, as although she was very much the delicate woman who needed to be protected, she was also shown to be capable in other ways; brains, logic and levelheadedness. However, towards the end of the novel I kept coming across more and more teeth grinding declarations like this:
‘Mrs Harker is better out of it. Things are quite bad enough for us, all men of the world, and who have been in many tight places in our time; but it is no place for a woman, and if she had remained in touch with the affair, it would in time infallibly have wrecked her.’
I realize that it is a reflection of the time the book was written in, but it was still hard to swallow with so many statements like this in a row!
I would recommend this book to fans of the vampire culture and those that love gothic imagery. The language used is quite heavy going and the plot is slow building, therefore, I would not really recommend it for classic novices but rather those who have read a few already. 🙂 Dracula would appeal to both males and females 16 +.
Some awesome quotes I liked:
Dracula – ‘Once again…welcome to my house. Come freely. Go safely; and leave something of the happiness you bring.’
* * *
Dracula – ‘We Transylvanian nobles love not to think that our bones may be amongst the common dead. I seek not gaiety nor mirth, not the bright voluptuousness of much sunshine and sparkling waters which please the young and gay. I am no longer young. And my heart, through weary years of mourning over the dead, is not attuned to mirth. Moreover, the walls of my castle are broken; the shadows are many, and the wind breathes cold through the broken battlements and casements. I love the shade and the shadow, and would be alone with my thoughts when I may.’
* * *
Graveyard Man – ‘For life be, after all, only a waitin’ for somethin’ else than what we’re doin’; and death be all that we can rightly depend on.’
* * *
Van Helsing – ‘Ah it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new beliefs, which think themselves new; and which are yet but old, which pretend to be young – like the fine ladies at the opera.’
* * *
Van Helsing – ‘Remember my friend, that knowledge is stronger than memory, and we should not trust the weaker.’
* * *
Van Helsing – ‘Here is a lesson: do not fear ever to think. A half thought has been buzzing often in my brain, but I fear to let him loose his wings. Here now, with more knowledge, I go back to where that half-thought come from, and I find that he be no half-thought at all; that he be a whole thought, though so young that he is not yet strong to use his little wings. Nay, like the “Ugly Duck” of my friend Hans Anderson, he be no duck-thought at all, but a big swan-thought that sail nobly on big wings, when the time come for him to try them.’
Writing Style: 4/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes.
P.S. The whole time I was reading this I just kept thinking of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where she encounters Dracula. I’t’s such a funny Dracula parody so I thought I would share it with you guys! 😛
(I apologize for the terrible quality, it was the only one I could find. :()
Book Cover: http://www.goodreads.com/book/photo/2132280.Dracula