Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian, Kostova's debut novel, was published to much acclaim in 2005. The novel is full of archival research (what I mean here is that the characters spend lots of time in archives, not that Kostova did archival research for the novel though maybe she did) so it's been on my must-read list. It's just taken me years to get around to it.

I started reading the 642-page novel last weekend. I didn't mind that it was long and mired in historical detail (like others have), I was just a bit disappointed in the ending. With all the build-up, the final encounter was a bit anticlimactic. Not to mention the fact that the climax, short-term tie-up, and epilogue are all accomplished in 25 pages. After reading 600+ pages of build-up, I felt a bit robbed.

There were a number of things I liked about the novel: the prominence of archives,* the fact that main characters were sympathetic (and many of the secondary characters full-bodied and interesting), pondering the meaning of the title (who is the historian), and the epigraphs. I enjoyed the interplay of the two storylines, but while I was following Helen and Paul I was wondering what the narrator was up to (and vice versa). That tension, wanting to know what was going to happen (especially wanting to find out what became of the narrator's mother) is what kept me reading, but based on my general dissatisfaction with the ending I don't think I'd recommend The Historian.

* One thing that I just have to share -
Dracula: "I will put many archivists at your disposal--the finest of them--and you shall bring more under our power" (577). Yes! who wouldn't want to serve evil if they were promised an army of archivists.


  1. Finally! Someone as underwhelmed as I was with this book. I was starting to think I was truly a one-of-a-kind.

  2. I really feel like it didn't live up to its potential

  3. And... S, you are one of a kind... in a good way

  4. You two are not alone- I was not impressed with this one either.
    It has been a while since I read it, but I remember not connecting with the characters at all.