Over winter break, I finally got a chance to finish up reading a novel I started last fall: Dracula by Bram Stoker. It was a particularly fun read for me because in mid-October I took a trip from London to Transylvania, and I got to explore the real castle that Dracula allegedly lived in. I have to say, the castle didn’t live up to the description in the story, and yet being able to go and see it in person made the novel more enjoyable and tangible for me. This will be a spoiler-free review.
The novel begins with Jonathan Harker traveling to Transylvania to visit Count Dracula. At the time, Jonathan is completely unaware that Dracula is a vampire – or even that vampires exist at all. It is only after meeting the Count and spending some time in his castle that Jonathan begins to grow suspicious of the man. Dracula treats Jonathan civilly and uses him to learn about the culture of London, where Jonathan is originally from. Dracula then locks Jonathan in his castle and moves to London, where he plans on spreading darkness and creating more vampires.
Jonathan eventually escapes and returns to London, where his wife Mina eventually finds out about the supernatural nature of Dracula. She, her friend Lucy, and Lucy’s husband Arthur and former lovers Dr. Seward and Quincey all come together under the guidance of vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. Together, they try to figure out how to defeat Dracula, an adversary who is very cunning and possesses hundreds of years more experience than any of them. Their adventures take them all over London, and eventually across Europe and back to Romania in a mad chase to stop Dracula before he can gain enough power to become unstoppable.
Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the novel.
The Plot and Pacing
Considering that the novel was written in 1897, I was expecting a slow-paced and dense novel. Bram Stoker lived in the era of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and while both are very good authors, 1800s novels have a reputation of being quite slow to plow through. Not so with Dracula. My apprehensive expectation of a slow and dense book was shattered from the first chapter. Stoker has an excellent sense of pacing and voice, and his writing kept me on the edge of my seat more times than not.
Stoker paints a colorful cast of characters, having eight major characters and a respectable cast of minor characters. He establishes each character with a unique voice, easily distinguishable personality, and interesting strengths and weaknesses that are specific to each character. The cast of characters all play off of one another quite well and complement one another excellently.
Well-Written and Unique Style
The novel is written entirely through a collection of journal entries, diary excerpts, and letters. I really enjoyed this unique approach to writing. It almost feels as though the reader is a detective or a reporter, going through a case file. The choice of style comes with no sacrifice to narration: each of the characters keeps a detailed journal in some form (one of the characters keeps an audio journal on his phonograph), and so it is easy to learn of the characters’ daily activities through reading. There are no holes in narration, but the voice of the narrator changes at almost every chapter, allowing the reader different perspectives on the same events. I greatly enjoy this style of writing, and Stoker does it excellently.
Dracula is a 400+ page book, which can be a bit daunting to a casual or hesitant reader. However, the chapters are generally ten to fifteen pages apiece, making it relatively easy to read at least one chapter per day without feeling overwhelmed.
I think one way to tell a good book from a great book is if you have an emotional reaction. Reading Dracula, there were times when I actually laughed and times when I legitimately cried. Stoker knew how to write compelling emotional scenes. Every time a character dies (yes, not everyone survives), and many times that Jonathan and Mina have their conversations saturated with raw emotion, I felt the book resonating with me. I could feel the pain the characters felt, and I was deeply rewarded by the rich writing in this text.
For all the great things I’ve said about this novel, it did have a slightly disappointing ending. The final confrontation between Count Dracula and the cast of protagonists could have been handled differently. There are two final conflicts: one between Van Helsing and Dracula’s castle, and one between everyone and the Count himself. The former is actually more interesting than the latter, which I found a little disappointing. The climax isn’t bad per se, but certainly could have been written in a more compelling way.
I immensely enjoyed Dracula by Bram Stoker. It was fast-paced and full of energy, especially considering that it was written in the late 1800s. The characters are vibrant and believable, and the plot compelling. Although the end was a bit of a letdown, the journey of reading the book itself was well worth the time.
I highly recommend this book, rating it 9/10.
Have you read Dracula? What did you think of it? Comment below and let me know!