The characters and scenes in this story remain imprinted on my mind's eye. Dracul has not been written like a screenplay but it would make a sumptuously surreal film.
The authors' note (p.483) asserts that this is the story that was left out of the original Dracula. Bram Stoker's publishers are said to have shied away from the content of the first 101 pages of Dracula, which Bram claimed to be a true story:
I am quite convinced that there is no doubt whatever that the events here described really took place, however unbelievable and incomprehensible they might appear at first sight. (pp. 483-4.)
In the original preface of Dracula, Bram states that it is his "duty to present it before the eyes of the public;" "a warning of a very real evil" (Dracul, p.484).
Compiled by Dacre Stoker from Bram's notes and translated from other language editions (that apparently did include the original text), J.D. Barker has deftly crafted the story of Ellen Crone. Ellen is the Stoker family's nanny and the reason for Jonathan Harker's pursuit of Dracula in the latter part of the story.
Ellen is beautiful; ageless and perfect. Yet sometimes her blue eyes become grey; her blonde curls become wispy, thin, and she disappears from the house to regain her strength, hiding her face in her hooded cloak.
Where does she go, returning replenished and young again: what is her secret? "What colour will Ellen's eyes be today?" wonders Bram.
Bram, suddenly cured after being unwell for years as a child, and his sister Matilda become obsessed with finding out.
Ellen appears never to eat. Her room is coated in dust. Under her bed is another: filled with soil.
Bram and Matilda's investigations lead them to a tower room in Artane Castle: another bed, more soil, and whose hand?!
Ellen's trail grows cold then, until, as adults the Stoker siblings renew their investigations. They are sure they have seen someone from their past die for a second time. How can this be?
This compelling tale begins with Bram undergoing an ordeal that lasts the duration of the book. Guarding a malevolent creature in a locked tower room, Bram recounts the events that led him to this point; fearing his own demise. The tale moves between this harrowing night and Bram's memories of Ellen from childhood as Bram hurries to write down his story.
Not all of this story is focused on the gory habits of vampires (but be warned, dear reader, there is much blood). Ellen's character is problematical: her story is poignant; her eventual fate even more so. Are her intentions self-serving and evil? If so, why has she nurtured Bram and not harmed him? And who is the creature in the tower?
The language of this book harks back to the original literary text - reflecting the way English was spoken in the nineteenth century - so it comes across as authentic. It's up to the reader if you believe it...or not!
Dracul placed a commendable third in GoodRead's best reads for 2018 - Horror - almost toppling the twentieth century's master of horror, Stephen King. In my opinion it should have won.
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