Elizabeth Kostova,
The Historian
(Time Warner, 2005)

I've never been much for audiobooks. The sensory pleasures of a physical book are just too important to me, even when reminding myself of the glorious tradition of oral storytelling. In this case, I'd even tried reading the hardcover book, but gave up after a hundred pages or so because it failed to captivate me. That's rather my rule; if the author can't enthrall me in a hundred pages, I move on. There's just too many good books available to ever bog down.

So I came to this review process with a bit of trepidation. All of it ill-founded, I'm pleased to report. Over a period of about two weeks for the 10 CDs involved, my daily commute of about 45 minutes each way was enlivened by Kostova's rich prose and terse, if methodical pacing, further enriched by the delightful cast of readers. Indeed, it even brought back memories of the reader's theater experiences I'd enjoyed in high school and college.

I'm an easy mark for the school/academic story that had been the greater appeal when I'd attempted the hardcover. This deals with the discovery of arcane books and correspondence that leads the protagonists to the still (un)living Dracula. Kostova's handling of vampire lore is adroit, mostly consistent with Bram Stoker and without the decadence of Anne Rice and Laurel K. Hamilton. The scholarly atmosphere is highly compelling, as are the brief flirtations with romance among the principals.

This was great entertainment and made the miles go by; I've even considered trying to read the physical book again, but probably won't because there's just too much else to read. Still I'm glad I got to experience the book in this way and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys not just vampire and scholarly tales, but also to those admirers of literary fiction and good storytelling as well. There's something here for the Rice and Hamilton and Yarbro crowd, but Garcia Marquez, Eco and even Dan Brown fans would not go away disappointed.

by Stephen Richmond
28 January 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.