Book Review: Dracula

I first read Dracula in year 8, for English, and I remember then that I had found it a little tedious, and yet simultaneously slightly terrifying. So what did I think when looking at a wall of ultra-cheap classics than “why not pick up this one again?”

I’ll freely admit I don’t have the head for horror stories, be it in movies or books. Indeed, books are worse because my overactive imagination which sees phantoms in every shadow is required throughout the book, while movies are far more passive and creating the horrors has been outsourced. When it’s from your own head, it’s somehow more attuned to the things which get to you, and much more freely called up…

In any case, I was reading Dracula again, despite reservations. I wanted to make an effort to read more of the classics this year, more on a whim than anything else.

Having read it before, I thought it wouldn’t have the same tension to it – but I realised I’d forgotten all but a vague structure, and my continuing dislike of the diarist style of story telling. There’s a lack of flow that annoys me, and the unrealism of being able to remember all the day’s events and conversations to the word is something I can’t quite put aside. It does however show off the writer’s strong ability to think differently for each character, something rare enough even in good stories.

I probably can leave out the bit here entirely where the plot of Dracula is discussed. Suffice to say, it is the prototypical vampire story, and it broadly sets the pattern for all later monster/horror stories. You’ve probably already seen it in one form or another, and it is predictable in many ways.

However… that’s not to say it’s not a strong story. There’s a reason it’s a classic, and it does stay reasonably enthralling. Being able to identify with some of the locations – having been to London – makes the story a little more real and relatable, and those strange noises in the dark make you jump that little bit more.

Stoker is occasionally inconsistent in the characterisation, particularly of Van Helsing, and parts of the story haven’t aged well; for example, when the men decide that Mina Harker is to play no more part in the pursuit of Dracula despite her having thus far been the key to their understanding, she accepts her role as a woman is not to step in front. Indeed, while this may have reflected the times, there is also something of an independent woman glimpsed in Mina’s character, which fleshes her out far more than Lucy.

All told, it is still a classic worth reading; Stoker only steps as far outside the mundane as is necessary to provide some excitement and narrative tension, which leaves it feeling more approachable than the completely extra-ordinary fantasies and horror stories. I can’t help but to think of Mel Brooks’ version of the story, though.

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