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Reading In-Progress: Bram Stoker's Dracula

Dracula is something I've wanted to read for a long time. I read Frankenstein a few years ago - the version gorgeously illustrated with horror artist Bernie Wrightson's creepy renderings - and really enjoyed it. Continuing the theme, this version I've picked up has wonderfully malevolent artwork by Jae Lee.

I'm only one-third into it thus far, but I've been fascinated to see my evolving reaction to the writing style. It's been a while since I've read any sort of epistolary novel, and I'm reminded that it's a format that must be incredibly hard to do well. While the presentation of letters, diary entries and newspaper articles does convey a layering sense of verisimilitude, it's also readily apparent that there are a number of real limitations imposed by such a form. First and foremost, every installment necessarily requires that the action or development be followed by some amount of "down time" in which the character in question could ostensibly put all to paper. This seemingly precludes extended periods of action, which could be why I've heard several people (both friends and professionals) describe the novel as "boring".

Personally, I couldn't disagree more. Yes, there's a paucity of "action" or "monster" scenes, but that's as should be in a horror story; our fears, our dread, play more on what isn't there than what is.

I will admit, though, it takes time to get a hang of. The first five chapters detail Jonathan Harker's journey to Dracula's castle, the gradual realization of his imprisonment, and the icy terror that results. And just as this opening gambit reaches its harrowing climax ... we change scenes to Mina and her friend Lucy, back in England, idling their summer away by the sea. Once more, it takes several chapters before the darker elements start to creep in ... and when they do? We're suddenly treated to a dry, passionless newspaper article about a Russian ship that ran ashore one rainy night.

Each time the novel suddenly changed tacks, I - like many, I suspect - found myself frustrated. Until finally I began to intuit such a reaction was deliberate, intentionally unsettling the reader each time. The pace of the novel is very patient, slowly setting up its participants and then using them to slowly circle in on the plot, bit by bit ... and it's not surprising that this approach might be too measured or frustrating for some. Myself? I'm really enjoying it.

But the actual reading is, still, slower going than I'd expected. And why?

Because, like any good horror story ... it really needs to be experienced only at night.

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