Friday, October 23, 2009

Dracula The Un-Dead, by Dacre Stoker with Ian Holt.

The publication of this book has had me in great anticipation for quite some time, and the reading of this book has prompted me to rethink the entire format of this blog. This book is impossible for me to review objectively and professionally, and from now on my thoughts on the books I review will be far more along the lines of train of thought.

I will have to begin by telling you all a little about myself, and where I'm coming from. I am a student at Monash University, in Melbourne, and am currently doing my Masters in Public History, studying to be a Museum Curator. Before I began my Masters, I did my Honours Thesis on, believe it or not, Vampire mythology. I did an analysis on how different forms of media affect the development of mythology with Vampires as my case study. I therefore did a lot of research into Vampires, read practically every book on the subject, watched every film on the subject, even read obscure gnostic gospel verses that are thought to reference them. While doing my research I read a lot from, and about Ian Holt, the co-author of Dracula the Un-Dead and was generally impressed by his knowledge and his depth of research.

Through my own research I found inspiration, and while writing my thesis also started to write my own novel, with my own ideas. Inspired by the general ambiguity in character, and time that could be seen in Bram Stoker's Dracula, as well as the interesting character of Stoker himself. Reading his biographies are entertaining in themselves, even before reading not only Dracula but some of his other works, which never really afforded him any recognition (regrettably for good reason).

Imagine my dismay then, when after working on my own novel for over a year I heard that a Stoker relative was collaborating with a Dracula historian working around the basic premise that I had thought of. Basically in having Quincy as the protagonist and Bram Stoker as a character is where the similarity between Dracula the Un-Dead and my own work ends, but it was enough for me to have to completely re-think what I had written, which I promptly did.

A few short weeks ago Dracula the Un-Dead hit the shelves here in Melbourne, so naturally I snapped up a copy. Snapped it up, devoured it, and nearly cried with utter disappointment at the book that these two men have produced.

The plot centres around Quincy Harker, the son of Mina and Jonathan Harker, the protagonists of Bram Stoker's Dracula. He wishes to be an actor, but in an attempt to protect their son, the Harker's deem it necessary to send him to Paris to study law, which Quincy sees as a punishment, and wallows in churlish teenage angst against his parents throughout the entire novel, making him seem like a petulant child who doesn't get his own way, and making him unsympathetic as, as a reader, I expect more of any human being already in their 20s.

Each of the original Stoker characters are still haunted by their encounter with Dracula and the death of Lucy Westenra so many years before, and Jonathan and Mina's marriage is strained by Dracula's constant presence between them. When the Jack the Ripper murders grip London the group must once again face their demons with the fear that Dracula has returned to exact revenge.

It all sounds very exciting; a topical historical novel based on the events of a 19th century work. This novel was so clumsily executed however that I actually felt angry at moments. Both writers completely fail to convey a sense of time. The novel could have been set in the modern day, but for a few clumsy references to things we take for granted these days as being 'new'. There is even one scene where Mina trips and her keys and purse fall out of her bag. I half expected there to be a mention of mobile phones ringing. On top of this, in order to convey time the authors have resorted to simply name dropping anything of note from the time period. It starts with Jack the Ripper, escalates to name every single actor or author that was famous at the time, and even goes so far as to use the Titanic in one scene. There is no excuse for this kind of clumsy writing in today's day and age. I believe a novel should be able to stand on it's own feet, without having to resort to name dropping the famous associations of the author's relatives.

Using Bram Stoker as a character quite frankly served absolutely no purpose. He appears in very few of the chapters, and in the chapters he does appear he comes across as bitter, jaded and generally talentless. It even attempts to remove his authorship from the original, claiming he simply got the idea from a drunk in a bar.
What perhaps made me angriest about this book was using Elizabeth Bathory as the villain of the piece. Un-originality, thy name is Dacre Stoker. While I am aware that much of the novel was written based on Bram Stoker's notes, it appears the authors of Dracula the Un-Dead authors never thought that there was a reason that Stoker chose to leave these things out of the novel. That he was aware of the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess, I have no doubt, and as he created the legend of Dracula I am aware that he used elements of her to create his Dracula. However, since that novel has been written Elizabeth Bathory has become part of the Vampire legend in her own right, and using her, especially in the way she was used, is simply un-original and shows a severe lack of imagination on the part of the authors.

I could write for hours on the historical faults of this novel, but I will refrain from doing so. They are too glaring and too numerous to put down in a few short paragraphs. All in all I think this is a clumsy work, with virtually nothing to recommend it. I almost feel that Dacre Stoker never even bothered to read Bram Stoker's novel, and if he did, he certainly didn't understand it. Dracula has so many undertones, and images, not all of them positive, but they are there nonetheless. He was making an observation on society, on class, on politics, on women and the dangers of sexuality. As a society today we may well be offended by some of his views, but they were his view nonetheless, which he chose to share through the medium of the novel. Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt choose to completely ignore what Bram Stoker was trying to convey, and simply write a voyeuristic gore-fest (and even manage to fail in that, and frankly most of the 'gore' comes across as humour, rather than anything serious) which panders to the modern conception of the 19th century as a novelty.

I am completely unable to give this book any rating over 1.5. The plot was weak, the characterisation even weaker. Not a single character was likeable in this novel, nor even believable. While this novel could possibly stand on it's own two feet as a piece of cheap pulp, destined for the $5 paperback table, as a sequel to one of the world's best known, and best selling books, this book fails. Miserably. There are no traces of the original novel anywhere in this work, and if Bram Stoker knew what had been done to his novel he would turn in his grave.

I think I can categorically say that this is one of the worst books I have ever read.



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