Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sorry, Bram. I tried.

I've abandoned The Mystery of the Sea by Bram Stoker.  I made it almost halfway through, but I just couldn't take any more. 

I wanted to like this book.  I liked Dracula, after all.  I think no other book does such a wonderful job of building mood and suspense as Dracula.  I thought the ending was weak, but my overall impression of it was positive.

But The Mystery of the Sea was a different matter.  It has a couple of fatal flaws, and I couldn't overcome them.  The biggest flaw was the character of Gormala MacNeil.  She's an old Scottish woman who possesses a psychic gift.  None of that is the problem.  No, the problem is that she speaks in a thick Scottish dialect, complete with vernacular, and Bram Stoker writes it all out.  Here's an example of her dialog:

“Ah! to them that have seen the Doom there needs but sma’ guidance to their thochts. Too lang, an’ too often hae I mysen seen the death-sark an’ the watch-candle an’ the dead-hole, not to know when they are seen tae ither een. Na, na! laddie, what I kent o’ yer seein’ was no by the Gift but only by the use o’ my proper een. I kent not the muckle o’ what ye saw. Not whether it was ane or ither o’ the garnishins o’ the dead; but weel I kent that it was o’ death.”

None of that is a typo.  It's copy-and-pasted from the Gutenberg site.  The whole first ten percent of the book is filled with that sort of gibberish.  :|

At about the ten percent mark, though, Gormala exits stage left, and the text reverts back to readable English.  At that point, I began to think I might finally get into the story.  But then the second flaw reared its head.  The narrator meets a girl and spends page after page gushing about her.  This "mystery" story by the author of freakin' Dracula turns into a "young adult" romance!

Nevertheless, I admonished myself to push on.  Surely the narrator can't act like a lovestruck schoolboy forever, right?  Well, wrong.  The romance never really made it to the background.  It remained too close to the foreground, wallowing in its own endorphins and staring at its navel and making me want to claw my eyes out.  But the other subplot--the thing about the Spanish Armada and possible hidden treasure--started to crank up just a little.  I soldiered on, hoping to get some gunfire or some swordplay or something to hook my attention and reel me back into the story.

And then, as if to dash my final hopes, Gormala reappeared on the scene.

That was it.  Last straw.  Book abandoned.  :(

Bram's got a few other books on Gutenberg, so I'll give some of those a try at some point.  But I'm terribly disappointed in The Mystery of the Sea.  I really wanted to like it as much as I liked Dracula.  Instead, I feel like a good friend's dog died.

I suppose the moral of the experience is that any author, no matter how famous, is capable of writing a stinker.

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