The Book: Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Challenge: A book with a one-word title
There is a fundamental flaw with reading incredibly famous books: you already know pretty much everything that happens. Especially with this one, which is so famous that it's a cliché. So, why did I read it? Confession time: because I had never read it before. I know, "gods of bookstores, strike me down" and all that, but the fact remains.
That being said, what are my impressions of the grandaddy of all vampire stories? Well, it was at times interesting. At times. Too often, the book was bemusing and eye-roll worthy. It's very much of its time, but not in a good way. The book comes off as borderline xenophobic, with the main theme of purity/faith/civilization vs corruption/evil/the supernatural being twisted into more of a fear fueled tract against anyone not from Western Europe/America. As an added bonus, Bram Stoker cannot, absolutely cannot, write accents in a believable manner. I'm sorry, but it's true. One more "blooful lady" and I was going to chuck the book across the room. Ditto on Van Helsing's "man mind" speeches, though for a different reason.
This was made more irritating by the fact that I actually greatly enjoyed the first section. Jonathan Harker may be one of the most clueless protagonists ever, but his journey to the Count's castle and subsequent semi-revelation about Dracula's nature contains some of the best scenes of the book. The most memorable scene for me was when he witnesses the Count climb headfirst down a tower wall. Absolutely chilling stuff! But then the book transfers its attention to Mina and all the joy is sucked out of it. The most interesting character is, of course, Dracula himself, but he's not in the novel much. His effect, his corrupting influence is, but he himself pops up only occasionally for not nearly enough time.
Essentially, this book reads like a bad Rosencrantz and Guildestern Are Dead version of the Dracula story we know and love. You get occasional glimpses of the "actual story", but it happens elsewhere and the reader is instead subjected to long scenes where nothing really happens except for people arguing over philosophical points or complaining about the little things that wind up being major plot points that the reader already knows about. Admittedly, that is not the fault of Bram Stoker. He didn't know how famous his book would become, nor how familiar with the plot readers almost 200 years later would be. However, I feel that he missed out on the more interesting parts of his story in favor of overemphasizing his own philosophical agenda.