Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Dante Club - Matthew Pearl

I really wanted to like this book. It takes places in Boston in 1865, and concerns a couple of inexplicably brutal murders. The police force, with its first mulatto officer, set forth to solve the mysteries. Meanwhile, a literary group, comprised of Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among others, take it upon themselves to put together the first English translation of Dante's Inferno. The group quickly puts together that the strange deaths have been fashioned after punishments in Dante's hell (very similar to the movie Seven in which people are murdered pursuant to the Seven Deadly Sins). The group is simultaneously facing pressure from Harvard to cease work on their translation, as Italian works represent the absent morals of decadent Europe. As they clash with authority, the Dante Club sets out to solve the murders before they take over Boston. With literary figures and sensational murders, plot-wise, this book was right up my alley. But, development-wise, Pearl took way too long setting his scene, introducing the characters, and explaining the ins and outs of Dante's poem. Pearl is a Harvard graduate, with a law degree, and a background in Dante. At times it felt like he hadn't really thought out the book, but rather just wanted a vehicle to show off his esoteric knowledge. I found it very difficult to stick with this and it took me three tries make it through the first 100 pages. Eventually, another murder occurs and things get a bit more interesting. Pearl is certainly a good writer in terms of eloquent prose, and building of suspense. But, at times, he simply took too long to get to the point and I found myself ultimately not that interested in finding out the resolution. Pearl has written two more books since this one - one focusing on Edgar Allen Poe and another on Dickens. I believe he will suck me in like Chuck Palahniuk, with fabulous plot ideas - which will hopefully pan out in the long run.

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