Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Historian Readalong - Midway point

The Historian is one of THOSE* books for me. You know, the ones that you buy as soon as they come out because you want it so badly and then.... you don't actually get around to reading. I bought this book in July 2005 and until this read along, which is being hosted by the good ladies at The Estella Society in conjunction with RIP VIII (hosted at Stainless Steel Droppings) I hadn't even read the first page.

These are the discussion questions that have been posted at the halfway point of the read along:

1. What do you think of the structure of the novel? It’s a story within a story (sort of within a story). We have Professor Rossi’s storyline, Paul’s reflections, and the daughter’s adventures. And letters. There’s a lot going on!
I love a story within a story structure when it is done well. In this book, I would go so far as to say that there are more levels of story within story in this book than just two because each time you meet a new character you get to know their story and the additional bits of information that they bring to the situation. There is a lot going on, in a lot of different places around Europe, at different times in history. You do have to work a little to keep it all straight!

I would say though, that there are times when the narrative doesn't match the structure. For example, after her father disappears the girl is supposed to be reading letters than tell the story of how he met Helen and the time they spent together but in the narrative it isn't told in letter form and doesn't read as if it is a letter that is being read but rather as if you are there.

2. What are your thoughts on Helen’s characterization? Have you warmed to her?

Helen is a bit of a cold fish really, and I think that at this point (which is 40 chapters in) she is just beginning to thaw a bit which part of what makes her characterisation is interesting to me.  For most of the people who our main characters coincidentally cross paths with you know straight away that they have been inserted into the narrative to help with the quest to find out more. Sometimes this is very blatant and could have been done with a bit more finesse. Whilst it was obvious from very early on what Helen's role in the book is going to be (as in I will be very shocked if we don't find out that Helen is Paul's daughter's mother and now I am beginning to think that we will eventually find out that she has been turned) I do find her whole story intriguing and so I am very much looking forward to hearing more about Helen and Paul's story and where she has been during her daughter's formative years.

3. What do you think of the peripheral characters? Are their motivations pure? I’m thinking of Turget, Helen’s family members, etc.
As I mentioned before I do find the way that many of the peripheral characters have been introduced to the story to be a bit heavy handed and relying way too much on coincidence and instant trust between the characters. We get to know all of the 'good' characters pretty well, but not much about the 'bad'. Some nuance wouldn't have gone astray. There are other examples of some heavy handedness. For example, when we see the portrait of Vlad Dracula and it is compared to one of the main characters it would seem to be a big dose of foreshadowing!

I did love the Bora's, and would love to be looked after by Mrs Bora - this couple knows how to entertain and cater big time! I am definitely intrigued by Helen's Auntie Eva, and I hope that we begin to learn more about her. I can't see how that will fit in on the voyage of discovery that our characters are on, especially seeing as Paul has already told us that he lost eventually lost track of her.

I have high hopes for Barley and that in due course he will be revealed to be much more integral to the plot than just being the daughter's company as she dashes all over Europe. By the way, have we learned the daughter's name yet?

I am finding that my reaction to the book is varied depending on what is going on and even then from minute to minute. For example, I love some of the description - of the libraries, of the food, of the places - and hope to share some of them over the next couple of weeks, but I do think there is too much description. This is a big book in terms of scope, story and the number of pages and even if we only got descriptions of half the places that the characters visited it would have been enough.

Having said that, I would have been extremely disappointed if one of the descriptions that had been cut was that of Budapest. Many years ago now, I spent a couple of days in Budapest. It was one of the destinations of my European tour and wasn't one of my must see cities, but I definitely enjoyed my visit. At the end of it though, I felt as though I had seen what I needed to see so probably wouldn't need to go back again. Now having read the section about Paul and Helen in Budapest, and bearing in mind that I haven't been there for 18 years, I was definitely tempted to want to return and to experience Budapest again. I have posted about a memorable meal that I had in Budapest before (goulash and chocolate cake for breakfast anyone?), as well as the drama we had on the tour bus trying to get back into Austria. I could do without the bus drama, but I would love to cruise along the Danube under the Chain Bridge, to walk on Castle Hill and near Matthias Church and see the Parliament Building again. I can ignore the fact that my passport expired more than 10 years ago and I don't have any money. Thank goodness for cyber tourism! As an aside, I would say that the Hungarian visa is probably the most interesting one that I have in my expired passport!

If I had time to spare I would make an effort to have a Turkish bath this time, and I would also try to see some of the Roman ruins as well. Sounds as though I would need at least a week in Budapest now to do all of these things and more! And I haven't even thought about the possibility of hunting down Dracula yet!

*Other examples of THOSE books - Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson and numerous others.


  1. Oh, I would love to go to Budapest! I've heard such lovely things about it, and I adore all of Europe anyway. Such culture and history and food and adventure! Your picture of your passport with the book is great!

    I know what you mean abou story within a story and so many levels to each, as well as the "confusion" that the father is telling the story supposedly through a narrative when it's really most of the book. Still, I loved it, even when the description became a bit much as it did from time to time.

    1. There are still lots of places I would like to go in Europe, for many of the reasons you mentioned! Culture, history, food and adventure adn more!

  2. I have the same feeling as you about the structure of the book. It gets a bit confusing. I almost wish the daughter had left herself out of it ;)

    1. I am assuming that the daughters story becomes more relevant as the book goes on longer.