I want to make a confession. This is the first vampire book I've ever read. I've never been interested in vampires, ghosts, werewolves and other manifestations of superstition and the supernatural. Indeed, for as long as I can remember, I've avoided horror - gothic and otherwise - in both literature and film, basically because I hate being scared. So I've not read Dracula before. I've never seen a Dracula film. The closest I've come to watching anything featuring vampires on television was an episode of Doctor Who a couple of years ago.
Given that I've consciously avoided all things vampire-related, it was a surprise to realise, as I listened to this audiobook, just how much I knew about the species. If I and not Jonathan Harker had been sent on legal business to Transylvania, I would have known that peasants making the sign of the cross and giving me garlic when they became aware of my destination was not a good sign. I also would have known that if a man dressed in black with a pale face and sharp canine teeth protruding over blood red lips opens the door of his isolated castle and invites me to come inside, it would probably be wise to turn tail and run. That I know this without having voluntarily exposed myself to vampire lore is a testament to the pervasiveness of Dracula as an icon of popular culture.
This makes me wonder how the average reader reacted to Stoker's tale when it was first published in 1897, given that the characters and the story came to them freshly minted, as it were.* My guess is that they must have been properly terrified. All the more so because they probably wouldn't have found the melodrama and verbosity of the Victorian sensationalist novel faintly amusing, as do so many contemporary readers.
Well, I wasn't properly terrifed by Dracula, although I did find the narrative quite suspenseful. At least, I did until towards the end, when the hunt for Dracula slowed down to the speed of Victorian-era public transport. And then the climax, when it finally came, was over in a flash. The over-the-top melodrama made me roll my eyes from time to time and I found the verbosity a little trying, even though as a general rule it's a feature of Victorian literature which doesn't particularly bother me. More than once I found myself wishing that they would stop talking and just get on with it.
Overall, though, I found a lot more to like than to dislike in this novel. I particularly like the expanded epistolary format, which uses not only letters, but diary entries, memoranda, a ship's log and newspaper articles. It provides an interesting way of telling the story from the perspective of multiple characters. Admittedly, the device has its weaknesses. For example, the newspaper articles are not particularly convincing and the explanation for why various characters record the minutiae of their lives - including conversations set out vebatim - in times of great danger and stress, feels rather forced.
I'm glad I listened to this particular audiobook edition. It's a full cast narration, which includes well-known narrators Simon Vance and Katherine Kellgren and actors Tim Curry and Allan Cumming. They're all very good, even though none of them make Dr Van Helsing sound Dutch. But then the syntax and grammar Stoker used in creating Van Helsing's character is not that of a Dutchman speaking English, so I don't suppose the vaguely Eastern European accent the various characters give him is that much of a problem.
Overall, this was lots of fun. It hasn't exactly converted me to vampire fandom, although I'm thinking about reading its predecessors, Sheridan Le Fanu's [b:Carmilla|48037|Carmilla|Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347426694s/48037.jpg|47015] and John Polidori's [b:The Vampyre: A Tale|472966|The Vampyre A Tale|John William Polidori|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347792075s/472966.jpg|461235]. Not anytime soon, though. For now I'll happily go back to avoidng horror.
*I know that Dracula wasn't the first vampire novel, but it hadn't been preceded by that many.