Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Written by Bram Stoker

Published: 1897

Synopsis: Famous for introducing the character of the vampire Count Dracula, the novel tells the story of Dracula's attempt to relocate from Transylvania to England, and the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham van Helsing.

My Thoughts: I'm a little embarrassed to say that I haven't read Dracula before. I've seen most of the film adaptations, and I've always been aware of its notoriety as a classic horror text but for some reason I've never gotten around to reading it before. Dracula is a phenomenal book. Contemporary authors really should take the time to study this book, regardless of whether they write horror or not, because it truly is amazing in every possible way. The quality of writing, the ingenuity of the story, the vitality of the characters, the use of journals and letters, the combination of so many delicious genres into one great book...seriously, why hadn't I read this before?!

So the book begins as Jonathan Harker heads out to meet Count Dracula, an elderly client who is intent on moving to England and needed legal help to organise it all. Once in the huge castle it doesn't take long for the easy and enjoyable conversations late into the night to turn to something far more sinister. Harker soon realises that his freedom in the castle is being severely curtailed, and after several late night explorations it is removed completely. At the same time things around the castle starts to get really strange, he witnesses the Count crawling down the castle's steep walls, and he comes across three women who appear out of thin air and encircle him eagerly clawing for his throat. As much as I loved the rest of the book, I think it was this first portion that I loved the most. The action takes place amongst such a wild and mysterious part of the world and the capacity for the supernatural seems all the more likely.  From the early descriptions of the changing landscape to the growing unease of the locals who risk their lives to help Harker avoid the castle to the scene with the Count asleep in his coffin, the pacing and foreshadowing is done spectacularly well and completely had me within its grasp. Then there are the three women/vampires, va va voom! Take note Stephenie Meyer, that's how you write some disturbingly sexy scenes! For example;
"There was a deliberate voluptuousness that was both thrilling and repulsive. And as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal till I could see in the moonlight the moisture Then lapped the white, sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited. ”
The visual capacity for this writing is extraordinary, it's not hard to see how this book led to so many film adaptations and copy-cat writers. As Jonathan struggles to survive in the castle amidst the three women and the wolves, Dracula makes his way across the sea to England and Jonathan's fiancée, Mina, happens to be in the small seaside town he lands in. After Mina's friend Lucy succumbs to a mystery illness, we're introduced to the rest of the cast, Lucy's Fiancée, Arthur, his friends Dr Seward and Quincey Morris, and the absolutely delightful Van Helsing. Because I hadn't read this book before, I'd always imagined Van Helsing as a young BAMF who dominates vamps and other mythological creatures (I think you can blame the Hugh Jackman movie for that) but he's so different! He's definitely still a BAMF, but he's old and sweet and unbelieveably gorgeous character. I just wanted to take him home and keep him in my pocket! He definitely falls under the Gandalf/Dumbledore awesome old guy banner. One of my favourite lines of his is this one he says to Mina;
"There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights"
See! See! So the book is told through a series of diary/journal entries, letters, and telegram accounts which have been collected by Mina in order to help the group in their attempt to destroy Dracula once and for all.  I'm not sure how many books at the time this was published would have used this format, and even though it's fairly common now, it's exceptionally well done and I loved that it added perfectly to "this happened but we don't believe anyone would ever believe us" theme that runs through the book. I guess in a way it's the precursor to all the found footage horror films around now, except given the time the book takes place, it actually makes sense for all of this to be documented in a diary or in long letters to one another.

So yes, I enjoyed the crap out of this book. It's intelligent, funny, heart-warming, spooky, graphic, unique and well worth the attention it's received for over 100 years! Given it's age, it does take a while to get into the rhythm of the dialogue patterns if you don't often read books from that time, but it's not impossible nor difficult once you get into it. There was one character, an old man in the seaside town Lucy and Mina stayed in, that I couldn't understand a word of. His dialogue is written verbatim in a very thick Northern (?) accent and full of idioms and speech patterns unique to that area. It was only about a page in total, but I just couldn't work out more than 1 in 5 words and I simply gave up. It had no real bearing on the story (a touch of foreshadowing if anything) so it wasn't the end of the world, but thank god it wasn't all like that! Anyway, that one blip aside, everyone should read this book asap if they haven't already.

5 out of 5 litres of fresh virgin blood