Finally I've come to read Dracula... the vampire classic that has never been out of print since it was first published in 1897, the flagship book that has spawned countless contributions to vampire lore, up to the present day with the popularity of Twilight and the Vampire Diaries, the age-old story that everyone is familiar with.
Not quite. I settled down to read Dracula, with the thought that I would probably fly through the book, as I felt I know the story so well, but i was very mistaken!! Surprisingly, for a book that is so vivid in people's consciousness, the book is actually a very different tale to the one I though I knew.
The book is set out as a series of letters and journal entries by various characters, detailing what happens throughout the story and how their individual actions end up bringing their stories together and affecting the final outcome. The first character we are introduced to is Jonathan Harker, a solicitor who is travelling to the castle home of Count Dracula of Transylvania, in order to assist him with the legal issues involved with the purchase of real estate in England. At first, everything appears to be in order and Mr Harker and the Count get on amicably, until Mr Harker realizes that he is a prisoner in the castle, causing things to take a dark turn.
While we are slowly being introduced to Count Dracula and his possible dark intentions, the story cuts between Jonathan Harker's narrative and that of Mina Murray, who is Jonathan Harker's fiancée, and her friend Lucy Westenra.The two girls are close friends who correspond frequently, and we get a fair insight into their lives through their letters to each other, and later the diary entries of Mina Murray, after she moves to spend an extended visit with Lucy, who mysteriously starts to waste away.
Another narrative strand is dictated by Dr John Seward, a suitor of Lucy's who is in charge of the local lunatic asylum, which features heavily in his sections of the story. As he becomes more alarmed about Lucy's health, Dr Seward calls for the aid of his trusted mentor, Professor Abraham Van Helsing of Amsterdam. Realizing what is behind Lucy's health issues, the Professor at first attempts to help Lucy without telling anyone of his suspicions, for fear of others disbelief.
At this point, the stage is set... all the characters are in place, we are privy to their innermost thoughts and wishes, and the sense of impending doom has already crept up on us! The sheer level of tension in the book is a masterpiece, as it rises and rises with each page, through hints and implications that are revealed by each character, often before they have managed to piece their own thoughts together and realize what is actually happening. I was always a bit wary of epistolary novels, thinking that there would be too much jumping about and the story would be too fractured, but Bram Stoker weaves each narrative thread together with skill and grace which has to be seen (read?) to be believed. After reading this, I can completely understand why it has remained in print for over 110 years, which is a fantastic achievement for a book which is basically a retelling of a popular folklore. The success of the story is absolutely unbelieveable, and its a success many authors pray that that can emulate today. The basic story has spawned its own genre, and you can see its influence in things as diverse as Sesame Street, through to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
This book is a solid five stars from me - I'm reluctant to award full marks to anything, but if anything deserves it, this does! A true classic which stands up to repeated re-reads, I plan on buying the annotated version for my next re-read, to get a bit more depth to the story. So switch off Vampire Diaries, and put down the Twilight saga, and go back to basics with the book that started it all. All thoughts, feelings and opinions welcome!!