Halfway through The Historian I’m fighting a losing battle with the forces of sloth and distraction. Elizabeth Kostova is chugging right along, unveiling her story in the split point of view of father and daughter. As the young protagonist ages, she separates from her father and somewhere around page two hundred breaks the bounds of childhood and launches a rarefied form of search and rescue. She bolts from Amsterdam in the company of an Oxford student and has a strange encounter on a train. From time to time I had to remind myself that this is an eighteen year old traveling through Europe in the 1970s. She has the perspective of a much older person traveling in an earlier time. The fact that the story’s parallel subplot follows her father around Europe and Turkey in the Thirties heightens an odd sense of confusion as to what is being experienced first hand and what is being related in flashback. Kostova’s choice of first person may be the problem. Or it may be me.
Since I’ve only read half the book this is a half review. If that makes you feel cheated, consider the following: my opinion isn’t going to influence your decision as to whether you buy or read the book. At 570 pages The Historian is large enough to exceed United Airlines defintion of carryon luggage. It’s big. As a blogger-reviewer I like to think I’m shedding light on unknown authors whose career arc launches skyward after a few mentions on the blogosphere. Kostova is a debut author but Time Warner has sent her on a nationwide tour, and the book dislodged Dan Brown from atop the NYT Bestseller List. That puts her in a league with branded luminaries of literature who aren’t sent to strip malls in Fargo, North Dakota to meet and greet the only fan brave enough to venture out on a dark January night.
I enjoyed my half of the book. The subject matter doesn’t interest me. Count Dracula, in my mind, has accounted for an inordinately large percentage of popular entertainment going back over a century. Besides, when I think of The Count I’m immediately reminded not of gore and neck biting, but the blue guy on Sesame Street. Once again the cultural tapeworm that is television spews forth an image both indelible and ultimately undesirable.