Sunday, September 26, 2010

A New Experience of Historical Fiction

Last night I finished The Dante Club, by Matthew Pearl. This was a novel recommended by my father. The premise of the story was indeed intriguing.

Set in 1865 Boston, our main characters are actual historical figures: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, J. T. Fields, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. These literary masters are collaborating together to translate Dante's Commedia into English, amidst the opposition of the more conservative Board of Directors at Harvard College. Their "Dante Club" becomes involved in so much more, however, when gruesome murders occur among Boston's elite.

These murders bear a horrifying similarity to the punishments Dante invisions in his Inferno, his journey into Hell. The Club begins a race with the murderer, whom they name "Lucifer", in a frantic effort to find him before he kills again.

This novel had many twists and turns, and I was surprised in the end! Pearl is a very detailed writer. The content of his novel, having one foot in history and the other in fiction, requires a delicate balance of explanation and story-telling. It was not a quick read, and not a book where I could allow my mind to wander at all as I read. There were times when Pearl's descriptive powers were almost overwhelming, as he described the sickening murders.

So I would recommend this book with reservations. If you have an affinity for the great American poets, for ancient literature (namely Dante's Divine Comedy), for a wickedly complicated mystery, and a strong stomach, you will be drawn into The Dante Club, and find yourself caught up in the emotions of the group just as I was.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a great yarn.
    It will probably interfere with me completing my next story.
    I have to have it.