Monday, 4 May 2009

Vacation reading gush-fest


Oh sweeties, I can't tell you how happy I am right now. I am on vacation! This is my first post-grad school vacation, i.e., the first trip I've taken in about a hunnert years during which I haven't spent any time feeling guilty about the grad schoolish work I should be doing.

Let me tell you about my glorious Sunday. I slept in. I ate a lot. I went for a long walk around my native city of sunny, tropical Halifax, NS (the city that never sleeps except at night, and sometimes for naps as well). I sat in a cafe and read Dracula. I walked more. I came back to my mom's place and then I did something I haven't done in about 10 years: I laid in bed - FOR HOURS - reading. It was so amazing to be relaxed enough to do that; and not being sufficiently relaxed is the only reason why I haven't done this is an age and a half.

I finished Dracula yesterday during my relaxed, layabout reading love-fest and it certainly added to the dreaminess of this whole vacation experience. When I began this novel, I assumed I couldn't possibly be surprised by anything Stoker could throw at me but I was constantly surprised and generally incredibly pleased (and often jumpy). It was a damned good read and there were some incredibly interesting things going on with gender (female agency in particular) that I am currently too happy and glutted to either contemplate or discuss.

But two things did stand in the way of this being a 5/5 book for me (were I given to rating books, which I'm not). The first was how inconsistent Stoker was about representing Van Helsing's English (as a second language) skills; sometimes Van Helsing's grammar was perfect and sometimes it was laughably poor. I feel as though Stoker's editor should have bonked him on the head a little. But this was pretty minor.

Spoiler Alert! Less minor was the major plot hole surrounding Mina's victimization at Dracula's hands (er, teeth. Sharp, pointy teeth). As the reader, I had the exact same information as Van Helsing, Harker, Seward, Goldaming, and Morris had - the narrative structure was such that there was no room anywhere for an omniscient narrator that could provide me with info the characters lacked.

The erstwhile vampire slayers all knew that Dracula was able to get into spaces that happened to house vulnerable female characters, as Lucy was already dead and they'd pooled their info when they congregated at Seward's asylum. AND YET, they all insisted on sending Mina off to bed every night unguarded while they went sniffing after Dracula's trail! And then were surprised and CLUELESS when she started to look pale and behave lethargically in EXACTLY the same way Lucy did when Dracula was victimizing her.

I have to say, this mis-step drove me a little crazy. Given how clever and thoughtful these characters were, this blindness was just too unbelievable - less believable even than the possibility of blood-sucking vampires. I'm sure Stoker could have found another way to make Mina into a victim - required for the tense climax of the novel! - in some way more suited to not making the genius Van Helsing and his semi-genius helpers look like complete and utter dolts.

Still, a good read which is helping to sustain my return to the Victorians love-in. But next, I have some decidedly 20th-century lit to wrangle with.

6 comments:

J.G. said...

Congrats on your reading vacation. How indulgent!

I agree that you'd think those geniuses would have figured it out sooner. Isn't that an essential requirement of the genre, though (even modern slasher films)? The characters never see it coming. Otherwise, there is no story.

(Resisting the temptation to overthink this into another aspect of gender and patriarchy.)

Book Psmith said...

Happy vacation! After how busy you have been with the dissertation and the bookstore, you deserve those blessed hours and hours of reading and the fact that you found a winner of a book instead of the disappointing duds that have been dogging you...yea!

raych said...

LAZE HARD!! DO NOTHING, AND DO IT WITH VIGOR!!!

Colleen said...

"LAZE HARD!! DO NOTHING, AND DO IT WITH VIGOR!!!"

Sweeties, this is how lazy I am right now: I got up at 11 am and have spent the rest of the day reading and eating chocolate chips with a spoon out of a bowl!

Book Psmith said...

Do you know my kid? She eats M&Ms out of a bowl with a spoon. Cracks me up every time. Can we trade places? You can come clean out my closets and I will take over your reading:)

Anonymous said...

Hi Colleen, I have a question, not about Dracula, but about the experience of reading Dracula, in fact, the experience of reading any book, for that matter.

You say you read for hours in one sitting, which raises a series of questions for me concerning the psychology of reading, in part because I can no longer read for hours, to sit motionless and disappear into fictional worlds entire, sadly.

When you read, do you see the scene unfolding in your mind's eye? Does the scene take on a life of its own, as it does, say, in a hypnogogic dream state? After you read a particularly beautiful sentence, can you recite it without re-reading it? Or only the gist? I'm often astonished by how little I remember of a book, not only words in sentences but incidents and names of characters, not to mention the qualia of their inner lives. Very frustrating. Do you have this "problem?"

Maybe others will weigh in, too.

Regards,
Kevin