Wednesday, January 24, 2007

book clubbing in January

It's that time of the month again...
My book club met today over lunch and we discussed Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club.

Set in 1865 Boston, the plot of The Dante Club revolves around the translation of The Divine Comedy into English by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a set of literary heavyweights including Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell. The powers that be at Harvard University disapprove of the publication, afraid of the corruption it will bring to the nation, and are doing everything in their power to pull the plug. If that isn't enough to discourage the poets (who happen to be Harvard professors), a series of gruesome murders begins to plague the city seemingly based on the Inferno. Though they are in a race to complete the translation before the Sexacentennial celebration of Dante's birth, the poets know that they are the only ones who can find and stop the serial killer.

There was a mixed reaction to the book: one member couldn't finish it, another absolutely loved it, and the rest of us were somewhere in between.

Personally, I didn't like the book nearly as much as I thought I would. While the story itself was interesting, it took me a while to get into it. Pearl also occasionally get bogged down in details, falling prey (as many writers of historical fiction are wont to do) to the need to showcase the amount of research that went into the book.

I thought the characters of Longfellow and Holmes were much more developed than those of Lowell and Fields (just three days after finishing the book, I couldn't even recall Lowell's name thought he was one of the main characters). One of my favorite characters in the novel is Nicholas Rey, the mulatto policeman, and I was very pleased to read on a discussion forum that Pearl plans to write a novel with Rey as the protagonist.

All in all, a good book, but not a fabulous one. I'll read Pearl in the future, though by now I'm pretty sure that I'll never be getting my review copy of The Poe Shadow. (see this post)

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on finishing the book! I loved the first chapter, then it turned into a bunch of academics talking and I gave up after about 50 pages.