Fiction Reviews

Stoker’s Manuscript

(2013) Royce Prouty, Arrow, £7.99, pbk, 346pp, ISBN 978–0-99-57445-3


I enjoyed this book, although I have to say I enjoyed it a whole lot more on the second read. Having recently read up on The Gothic certainly helped.

I am one of those (strange?) people who prefer books to stay books, and films to remain films – which is a long way round to saying that I don’t tend to enjoy films made from books – I want to retain the memory of the concepts that a narrative creates, without someone else’s vision (and visuals) intruding. For instance, as a ‘lover’ of the works of H P Lovecraft I have steered clear of the many film versions (luckily, it seems from the reviews I have read). So when I came to this book, I didn’t have the backdrop of either Bela Lugosi or Buffy to wade through. As with many stories, it purports to be a document left behind by someone who is voyaging (there is a sequel in preparation) on a journey which he hopes will lead him to a fortune. Joseph Barkeley, a dealer in rare books is engaged to purchase and deliver the original manuscript of Bram Stoker’s only recognised masterpiece Dracula.

It transpires that Barkeley is connected by blood to Dalca, the Master, one of the descendants of Vlad I. Born in Romania, but then orphaned and then rescued from the orphanage following the death of Ceausescu by nuns, Barkeley was brought up in Chicago together with brother. His brother later becomes a priest, and there is an underlying religious theme running through the book, from the dedication to the last sentence of the acknowledgments to the final resting place of the one who Dalca seeks.

There are a number of supporting characters: a rich collector of modern classics, a seemingly eccentric expert on vampires, a Romanian woman who provides Barkeley with a room (but who is also able to communicate telepathically with him), together with various guides / bodyguards / 'friends and relatives' of Dalca. But they all pale into insignificance to the Master, a truly menacing portrayal of evil. There were for me certain times when the character came off the page and into the room with me – not a pleasant experience.

Much of the book takes place in Romania itself, and it is difficult to tell if the atmosphere created is modern day reality (there is no indication other than it is supposed to be set today) or the image of that country portrayed on the television, which tends to exaggerate. One of the annoying things about the book was the continual emphasising of the pronunciation of English (or American) by the Romanians. Virtually every occasion when a Romanian replies to Barkeley, there is an italicised version of it. Once or twice to highlight the issue is OK, but not every time.

I checked to see if some of the places mentioned in text actually exist, and there is a Rosenbach Museum which holds an archive of Bram Stoker’s manuscripts. But I drew a blank on some of Romanian locations (or perhaps Dalca did not want me to find them) (joke).

As I said, I enjoyed the book, and will look out for the sequel when it is published.

Peter Young

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