Dracula: A Norton Critical Edition by Bram Stoker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Read to the end for a crowd-sourced Dracula playlist!
"I am all in a sea of wonders. I doubt; I fear; I think strange things which I dare not confess to my soul."
I had never read Dracula; somehow, it slipped through all the classes I took and all the lists of books I read like vitamins. I was excited when it was on the reading list for the freeFantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World course I signed up for from Coursera. Another class is next week's assignment - Frankenstein, another book to add to the list of Never Reads.
I was impressed. Dracula has become kitschy in our culture, and other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show, not the movie), I usually can't be bothered with vampires. I prefer them singing and dancing. They aren't sexy to me, sorry Anne Rice, and don't even get me started about that series which shall not be named with the sparkle vampire babies.
With that kind of context, it was refreshing to go back to the original. Where vampires are an anomaly, and terrifying. Where it isn't sexy to be attacked, but devastating to a loving relationship. Where Dracula (which he is eventually named) is inhuman, evil, and powerful.
At the same time, he isn't in very much of the book. The story is told through journals of 5-6 characters, as well as a few news clippings. They don't know what is going on, although Dr. Van Helsing might. The reader discovers Dracula as they do, and sometimes knows more than they do. I had read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova a few years back, which is written in a similar way, only spanning generations to tell the story of the historical Dracula. Oh how I wish I'd read this first!
I'm not usually a fan of atmospheric fiction, but it really worked for me here. The slow moving bleak setting and fear the characters experience builds up to an exciting finish.
My only complaint is the bad grammar used to imply a Dutch accent for Van Helsing; it was really grating and I wish the author had accomplished it another way. Still, small potatoes.
"Sleep has no place it can call its own."
When I was halfway through, I posted pleas to Facebook and Twitter for ideas of good music to listen to while reading this book. When the core of a book is atmosphere, I often go searching for appropriate music. The people in my circles are awesome. One of the albums not represented here but is worth hunting down - Dracula by Philip Glass. Haunting piano score, but not found in Spotify. I'm reading Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig right now, and the same music will be a great accompaniment to Miriam Black's visions. Well, maybe with fewer hobbits and more death.
Link to the playlist on Spotify.