Dracula - Bram Stoker, Maurice Hindle, Christopher Frayling

"Oh, the terrible struggle that I have had against sleep so often of late, the pain of sleeplessness, or the pain of the fear of sleep, and with such unknown horrors as it has for me! How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads, to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams."

 

I finished this book a couple of days go. This was my first read of Dracula and by some luck, I basically went into the story blind. I've read a fair amount of vampire fiction - from the sci-fi to the campy to the terrifying, but none that really riffed on this story. I've seen enough vampire flicks, but strangely, no version of Stoker's. I'm not sure how that happened really, but I'm glad it did. Going into this without any preconceived notion of the story (only of the characters) made this experience all the more...breathtaking.

 

In light of that, I've really struggled with what to say in my review. It's all been said, truly, and honestly there were sections that I'm sure didn't sink in...some of the heavily accented parts especially...

 

“I must gang ageeanwards home now, miss. My grand-daughter doesn’t like to be kept waitin’ when the tea is ready, for it takes me time to crammle aboon the grees, for there be a many of ’em, and miss, I lack belly-timber sairly by the clock.

 

Ummm...what?

 

But I think what I will remember most is that Dracula, the monster, was really very...well, he scared the bejesus out of me.

 

The last I saw of Count Dracula was his kissing his hand to me, with a red light of triumph in his eyes, and with a smile that Judas in hell might be proud of.

 

There was a night of some uncomfortable sleep for me after finishing...I think it's because I had immersed myself in it that day in a push to complete the book and move on. What I found is that there is some real psychological horror going on that sort of eeks into your bones - it's a sense of despair that's hard to shake. Whether it be Jonathan's entrapment in the castle, or watching Lucy's life helplessly slip away, or the unhinging of Renfield, or when you know what's going on with Mina and everyone relegates it to a one-liner in their diary..."Mina looks pale today...", there's subtlety in the telling that ratchets up the tension. All this despite the fact that we know who the monster is and further, we have seen so many variations of him that this should be watered down in some way.

 

Not so for me.

 

My only complaint is that Van Helsing drags out the narrative longer than my modern sensibility really wanted...I get why, here he says:

 

“To believe in things that you cannot. Let me illustrate. I heard once of an American who so defined faith, ‘that faculty which enables us to believe things which we know to be untrue. For one, I follow that man. He meant that we shall have an open mind, and not let a little bit of truth check the rush of the big truth, like a small rock does a railway truck. We get the small truth first. Good! We keep him, and we value him, but all the same we must not let him think himself all the truth in the universe.”

He has to bring the gang around on what they are dealing with...to convince them to believe. No small feat. I suppose I should be grateful that we're not treated with Van Helsing's journal entries themselves and only read him through the voice of one of the gang, Jonathan, Dr. Seward or Mina. Sometimes the man can ramble for two or three pages of their journals, and I can only expect that they're recounting the highlight reel there. I can't imagine how glazed over I'd be if I were reading his own mind...oi vey.

 

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and marveled at the epistolary format and how it spun a little romance into the book. We read the gang's inner most secrets as they are experiencing them, the love (especially Seward's unrequited love of Lucy) and the horror and the devastation. Together they piece together Dracula by combining their journals and passing them between themselves - there's an inherent intimacy there that the reader shares. It's special.

 

I look forward to revisiting this down the road...perhaps by seeing one of those Stoker flicks, definitely by listening to it performed on audio, maybe by getting an annotated copy to help me parse out bits that I didn't get. Definitely going to do that. Just, not right now. I need some breathing room... like a fine wine. Dracula himself would appreciate that.