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R&R 079 | Dracula

Sorry it took me a while to get this ready. I've had a pretty bad week and got another cold on top of that… but more is coming next week!
Also, it must be said: rest in peace, J.D. Salinger.

Bram Stoker
Dracula
First published in: 1897
This edition: Vintage, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-099-51122-9
Cover design info N/A – I will credit Vintage Classics for it

R&R 079 | Dracula
…just when you thought I couldn't get any crazier.

It was never my intention to read this book… Dracula has been everywhere. Everywhere, in the form of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman… even Leslie Nielsen has played him. My favorite vamp-related TV show BtVS couldn't escape Dracula, and had him featured in the season 5 premiere episode. I felt I'd been confronted with Dracula enough already.

But for someone who claims to love the subject of vampires as much as I do, how could I skip that which started it all? How could I not read the actual story about the Godfather of vampires?

It is one of the best literary decisions I have made in 2009; I found a book which I can genuinely dub one of my favourite books, ever. This feeling, knowing I would love this book, started immediately, during the first few pages.

Young attorney Jonathan Harker is sent to Transylvania on business, to help one of his clients, who wishes to move to England. Upon arrival, Jonathan immediately feels rather uncomfortable staying with the client, Count Dracula, and quickly begins to suspect his host of things unimaginable. When Jonathan realizes he's not able to leave, his only way to cope with his intense fears is to write. Eerie and grim, Jonathan Harker's revealing journals make for a strong start, as the young attorney discloses his agonizing imprisonment at Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania.
All the while at home in England, Jonathan's fiance Mina is worried sick, not hearing much from Jonathan, unknowing of a dangerous force en route to England.

The first 70 pages are immediately excellent, with strong descriptions, making it easy to imagine Jonathan's surroundings and the atmosphere of his stay in Transylvania. Yes, Stoker had a talent, and he used it well in this book. Stoker pulls the reader into his dark world, forcing you to see it happen almost with your own eyes. Yes, a very good first impression.

After Jonathan's journal chapters, Stoker mixes it up: from here on out, we read the letters and journal entries of characters such as Mina, her friend Lucy Westenra and (most prominently) one of the men in love with Lucy, Dr. Seward. I was very fond of Jonathan's journal entries, and so it took me a while to get used to new voices, but I did. It all clicked together.

A few things bothered me, namely this: Van Helsing is a Dutch man, yet his accent and his occasional verbal outbursts in his "native tongue" are German. To Dutch people, this regular assumption that our native tongue is German instead of our own language (Dutch!) can be irritating. (It happens in movies and tv all the time: we're all blond, pigtailed milkmaids wearing wooden shoes, who live in mills and smoke pot while speaking in German to our pals, Sven and Inga – which are not Dutch names). Stoker seems like he was a careful man, yet his failure to research the actual background of one of his KEY characters is sloppy at best. It being 1897 at the time has nothing to do with it; Germans and the Dutch have been different people with different native tongues for centuries.

Furthermore, the book is extremely masculine; the women Lucy and Mina are noble, sweet, gentle… They are saints, basically, and need to be protected by hordes of 'strong' men, physically and mentally (Van Helsing, Jonathan, Dr. Seward, Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris), all of whom constantly surround the women and work furiously at trying to maintain their honor, and such. However, this is both understandable and forgivable; the book was written in 1897 and my guess is that the intended audience was supposed to be predominantly male. So when women read this in 2009, of course we're going to find some fault with it regarding gender roles.

That said, I did find Mina to be a very brave female character, and I commend Stoker for not turning her into a puddle of defeat every time something happened. I really loved Mina.

While some things could be irksome, I never once got bored with this book; this was one of those books you cannot put down, even if it's already 2AM. The plot was always in motion, sometimes slower but often enough at a faster pace. I was sad about it ending; I wanted more! (I even had a dream one night, during which the story continued.) I have about seventy books on my To-Be-Read pile, but I know that sooner or later, Dracula is going back on that pile; it will be re-read.

Finally, I also feel that my experience reading Stoker's Dracula has opened the door for me to try reading other horror classics, such as Shelley's Frankenstein, and RLS' Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They're on the list of books I watch out for now.

I usually try to let you make up your own mind from my reviews whether or not you think a book would interest you. But for Dracula, I'll make an exception and will just give it to you straight: Bram Stoker's Dracula is a book you shouldn't skip, especially not if, like me, you are interested in the subject of vampires and the supernatural.

One note: if you've seen the Gary Oldman / Winona Ryder movie, try to let go of it before reading the book. I've heard there are some differences (I haven't seen the movie so I'm not sure), so try not to expect both to be the same.

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R&R series © Karin E. Lips 2008, 2009 and beyond