Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Fiction Review: Dracula

Last October, I enjoyed reading the monster classic Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, so I was excited to listen to another spooky standard this fall, Dracula by Bram Stoker, which I downloaded free from SYNC this summer. I thoroughly enjoyed the audio production of this creepy classic, filled with intrigue and suspense.

Jonathan Harker is a young attorney who has been sent by his employer to Transylvania to visit Count Dracula, who lives in a castle in the Carpathian Mountains and wants to complete a real estate deal in England through the law firm. Jonathan is confused by the frightened looks he gets when he tries to ask his innkeeper and others he meets on his journey about the Count, but once he arrives at the castle, the Count seems to be a polite and accommodating host.

Gradually, though, Jonathan realizes that something is not right, with the castle or with his odd host. He begins to notice that the Count never eats, he likes to keep Jonathan up all night long talking, and is never seen during the day. Eventually, these little oddities turn into something much more menacing, as the modern reader knows to expect but poor Jonathan is unsuspecting.

The action turns then to England, where Jonathan’s fiancé, Mina, is staying with her dear friend, Lucy, in Whitby. Lucy is inundated with three different marriage proposals, from Mr. Quincy Morris, an American, Dr. John Seward, a psychiatrist, and Arthur Holmwood. Lucy is fond of all three, but she accepts Arthur’s proposal, and they plan to marry. Despite her overflowing happiness, Lucy is dealing with a troublesome problem: she frequently sleepwalks. Mina tries to keep an eye on her and protect her, but one night, Lucy manages to walk all the way to a local churchyard; soon after, she becomes ill with a mysterious condition.

Meanwhile, Dr. Seward is dealing with one of the strangest patients he has ever encountered. Mr. Renfield collects – and eats – flies and spiders, gradually moving up the food chain to larger creatures. When Lucy becomes ill, Seward asks his old teacher, Abraham Van Helsing, to come over from the Netherlands to consult on her case. By this time, Jonathan is back in England, and the friends all combine their efforts to try to help Lucy. Dr. Van Helsing has some suspicions about what is going on, but it takes him a while to put together all the clues. Eventually, the group of friends must work together to try to combat the evil that has come among their own.

If this sounds like a complicated plot, it is, though I never found it hard to follow. It’s one of those suspense novels where the pieces come together slowly, gradually, as the tension builds. It was fun to listen to this classic novel now, today, when Count Dracula is such a permanent part of our collective culture. It actually added to the creepiness and suspense to know who Dracula really is, while the characters are struggling to figure that out, though I wondered what it must have been like for those first readers of the novel, back in the 1890’s, who were introduced to the character for the first time.

The audio production was absolutely excellent, with a full cast of seven different narrators joining in to represent all of the different characters. Hearing Count Dracula’s familiar Transylvanian accent for the first time sent chills through me! Despite the different accents (English, American, Dutch, Transylvanian), the audio was never difficult to understand. It was like listening to a full stage production from my own iPod, and I often found myself entranced (pun intended) by the well-told story.

My son wondered whether the language was archaic, given that Dracula was written in 1897, but I never found it to be difficult or plodding. The story is told through diary entries of the different characters, letters, ship’s logs, and newspaper clippings. Switching back and forth between different characters’ diaries and perspectives added to the interest and complexity of the tale and was especially engaging on audio. Although vampire fiction has been very popular this past decade, I’m not a big fan of the genre, but I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in this compelling classic.

Naxos Audio Books


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