Thoughts on Rereading The Historian

Andi and I hosted a read along of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova in conduction with Carl’s annual Readers Imbibing Peril or RIP challenge. I had already read it, a couple of times in fact, and looked forward to reading it again.

Oh, yes, and hello. Spoiler warnings. I’m going to discuss quite a bit of my feelings on this story and spoilers will pop up. Please continue if you have read the book.

I love rereading, for the most part. It is like revisiting old friends and catching up. I always discover something new in the story. And oftentimes, it’s comforting. However, the older I get, the more I’m finding that it isn’t always the best thing. Sometimes it’s better to leave a book back there, in the past, because things aren’t always as good as the first time. Sometimes, it’s a disappointment.

The first time I read the book, I read it in print. And even back then, I recognized that this book wasn’t for everyone.

I loved this book. I loved it, loved it, loved it!! THIS was the perfect time of year for me to read this book. It was cozy, it was suspenseful, it was wonderful. I loved every word, every page, every minute with it.

But I can see where others would hate it. It’s long. It has a tendency to wander. For the wrong person; it would annoy them. For the right person; it would delight. At another time, it might have bothered even me. This is one book where you absolutely have to be in the right place at the right time to read it and enjoy it. I am so glad it worked out for me.

The second time I read this book, I listened to the audio production. Justine Eyre and Paul Michael brought the characters and the story to life in such a delightful and suspenseful way. That “tendency to wander” still didn’t bother me. It was still “the right place at the right time” for me. I found the book just as time-consuming as I did the first time.

This third time, in the interest of time, I listened to the audio production again. Justine Eyre and Paul Michael are just as delightful in their performance, but that tendency to wander reared ITS UGLY HEAD. I found myself finding reasons to listen to something else, anything else. I turned the speed up to 1.25, then 1.5. I avoided the book like the plague, listening to music and podcasts instead.. Finally, in a last ditch effort to finish the book, while doing chores, I turned it on and just let it go, letting my mind wander as I worked. I finished, finally, eager to move on to something new.

The third time was not the charm. It was the killer.

Still, there are things I respected this time. The young girl, the daughter with no name (this also bugs me, names are important and this feels like a lack of respect to me) stood out more to me this time. In the first readings, and even in this one, she seemed too innocent and protected. She IS innocent and protected, but I admire how despite this sheltered existence, she didn’t hesitate to strike out on her on in search of her father. She is brave and clever (even if she failed to recognize the Helen of her father’s story as being the Helen she knew was her mother. I had a big WTF moment there). I also loved that the vampires are not romanticized. They are as cruel, cunning, and horrifying as they should be. No sparkles here!

Well, all the visible – in the story – vampires, that is. I didn’t appreciate how Dracula was held at arm’s length throughout the book. He’s hinted at in so many ways, he haunts the edges of the story, but it takes most of the book for him to finally make an appearance. In my mind, it really hindered his creepiness. It’s hard to be scared of something that isn’t there.  And honestly, what was the point of the “little book(s)” so many people so conveniently got and so conveniently met up to discuss? I also didn’t understand the way Kostova chose to tell Paul’s viewpoint. The “letters” did not read like letters but like novels. The seemingly endless detail weighed the book down. I know Kostova is a historian, so I know she probably felt all this detail was important, but I think the book would have moved much faster and would have been much more engaging if it had been trimmed a good 1/3 of its prose.

All in all, it’s still a good book, it just needed a heavy handed editor. I doubt I’ll be reading this again, at least not anytime soon. I’ll need a good bit of time to let this one seep back out of my brain, that’s for sure.

Have you read The Historian? What did you think? Did you love it? Hate it? Fall somewhere in the middle?

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Rereading The Historian

  1. I listened to this book when it first came out and LOVED it. I’ve not done a reread — I think I’ll take your advice and just let this one sit.

  2. Both of Elizabeth Kostova’s works take a special kind of reader. I loved them both, but don’t think I could ever stand to reread them, just not the re-reading type and those puppies are long and detailed.

    I recently got the bright idea to reread This Side of Paradise by Fitzgerald. Since I was a teen, it was one of my favs, but I hadn’t read it since. Oh my god, it was a horrible experience for the much older me! Shallow, flighty, and like a wannabe Edith Wharton without all of the drama or character depth that makes her work so good. What was the teen me thinking?

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