Saturday, March 10, 2012

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.

I'm a little embarressed 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. I'm so glad that 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' challenge rolled around, because it's an absolute crime that I've missed out on the magic of this book for so long!

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 delcious 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 weird, 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 (a word I seem to be overusing, alas!), 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 anunbelieveably 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, letter, 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, 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! Do it! NOW!


  1. this is a phenomenal book, isn't it?! I only read it a few years ago and absolutely couldn't believe how fantastic and so totally readable it is. For some reason I was always a little intimidated by these old Gothic classics. Maybe I thought they would be written in ye olde english, or something. Have you read Frankenstein yet? It's also really really good.

  2. Great review! I think the epistolary style was more common back in Bram Stoker's time (it adds a lot to this comment that I can be so detailed, right?), but you're right that in this case it adds so much to the text. I've read this a few times, but not for years now. I've been checking out some other vampire books (trying to remind myself that they didn't always sparkle when exposed to sunlight, as per Twilight). Interview With the Vampire and I Am Legend are both amazing books, but I hadn't even thought of rereading Dracula until reading your review. You've reminded me of some of the things I loved about takes a while to get used to the style, but once you slip into it (with a few exceptions - ie that one man in the seaside town that you couldn't understand) you feel like you're so completely in the novel's world.

  3. I really really really really liked this book, but hey, pssst, what about the sexism?! Like, Mina's clearly the most capable of them all, but they're all like, 'oh my gosh, you're a woman, we must protect you from these awful things because your delicate sensibilities can't handle them!' Not cool guys. Not cool. Having said that, I believe that Mina is the character from Dracula in The League? In which case, that's all good!

  4. @Trish, yeah I read Frankenstein a few years ago, but I'm about due for another read!

    @Ellen, I Am Legend is one of my favourite books ever! I've never read Ann Rice, but you should definitely read 'Let the right one in' by John Ajvide Lindqvist if you're wanting new vampire books - It's really quite incredible.

    @Laura, Yeah she's in The League, although she's basically just really bossy and controlling, I like her character much better in Dracula. As for the sexism, I try not to condone "it was the way things were" as an excuse, but in this case I really think this does fall into that category. They do try and protect her, but I do think Stoker still created a pretty strong female character, she was just restrained by men who still believed in the propaganda/gospel of the time.

  5. I haven't read Dracula *hangs head* I bought it aaaaages ago and keep meaning to read it, I really MUST get to it soon - I'm doing the League challenge too, so it's the perfect excuse.



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