Book Review: Dracula Park

Book Review: Dracula Park

Romanian history, nineteenth century English literature and modern-day political corruption collide in this highly entertaining novel from Swiss-Romanian writer, Dana Grigorecea. Although it might find its way onto the horror shelves, Dracula Park deserves a much wider audience than fantasy and horror fans alone. The themes running throughout the novel offer thought-provoking considerations of the burden of history upon a place and the corruption of power that can blur the lines between heroism and tyranny.

In this case, the place is Romania (referred to throughout the book by its mediaeval name, Wallachia). The powerful range from the notorious mercenary, Vlad the Impaler through to the, ‘blood-sucking [Communist] dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu [and] his cursed regime’ and onto those who intended to profit from the conflation of history and fiction with the proposed Dracula theme-park of the mid ‘90s. Grigorecea brings together these historical moments under the idea of the vampire figure: an ancient and uncanny revenant whose influence lies dormant until disturbed into action by often unknowing agitators.

From the first page, the novel is a compelling read. The story is narrated by an anonymous woman who has returned to the small town in Romania where she holidayed with her wealthy family. Here, she enjoyed the baroque elegance of her holiday home and the idyllic pastoral qualities of the place before she left for Paris to study painting. However, on her return, her well-trained eye perceives a different town to the one she remembers and she struggles to reassimilate. Although the people around her are changing, she is altering too and we witness her gain an otherworldly power as she moves through her story. Unexplained hauntings, screams in the forest and the narrator’s own visions create layers that crescendo to the revelation of a decapitated corpse lain on top of what is discovered to be the tomb of Vlad the Impaler. From then on, this narrator – and her reader – becomes caught up in a struggle to unearth the truths and falsehoods in the fictions that have come to grip her community.

This novel is easily read on two levels. As a story, it is both gripping and entertaining: the narrative flows between the past and the present so as to reveal events and conceal their meaning until further into the story. The gothic mystery is complimented with various off-hand moments of dark humour such as the quip that, on the discovery of the body in the vault of ‘a venerable Bucharest family,’ the police had searched the crime scene and, ‘more bodies had been found.’ The groans don’t only come from the gore!

The ending of the novel sees Grigorcea challenge the fixed image of Vlad the Impaler as the horrific tyrant he came to be and, in some ways, she reaffirms his (short-lived) qualities as a liberator. Like many of her contemporaries who fought against the Dracula theme park that was planned for Romania, Grigorcea is all too well-aware of the temptation for some to distort history in order to achieve the narrative that will serve them best. In Wallachia’s case, this was for a minority of its inhabitants to profit from the compelling mythologisation of a true historical character; a fictionalisation that fed upon and distorted the true spirit of their country.

The choice to base the narrative firmly within the literary gothic genre gives the novel a mystique that makes it hard to put down. The unnamed and self-professed unreliable narrator, her almost confessional report, the constant foreshadowing and moments of horror twinned with a kitsch humour all combine to make the story deliciously and dreadfully captivating. It is both an entertaining read and a serious exploration of the political, cultural and literary landscape of Romania, a fascinating country that forms part of Grigorcea’s heritage.

Dana Grigorcea, born in 1979 in Bucharest, studied German and Dutch literature in Bucharest and theatre and film directing as well as quality journalism in Krems, Austria. She worked as journalist and has been living in Zurich as freelancing writer since 2013. Her novels and stories won multiple awards, among them the 3sat Prize of the Ingeborg Bachmann awards. Dracula Park is published by Sandstone Press (Vertebrate based in Sheffield)

Dracula Park was reviewed for Books Up North by Clare Almond 

Clare is a bookseller with a keen interest in literary fiction. After ten years of academic work and teaching, she stepped away from the books to raise a family. Along the way, she has been a G.C.S.E. English literature examiner, a parish council clerk and a school governor but now she is enjoying getting back into the habit of reading, writing and literary criticism.

In her spare time, Clare loves nothing more than a swimming lengths at her local pool. In fact, she is a keen all round sportswoman and also enjoys watching her family running about on various sports pitches. Her other interests include music and making and eating good food. She lives at the foot of the beautiful North York Moors.


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