Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Dante Club

Book:  The Dante Club
Author:  Matthew Pearl
Like/Don't Like:  Once I got passed the ickiness I liked it a lot.

Several years ago a friend recommended this book to me.  I got it, started reading and then stopped about 30 pages in.  Details are fuzzy as to why.

Fast-forward to last year.  I read and loved The Last Dickens.  It wasn't until the end when I realized that the same guy wrote The Dante Club.  So I vowed to give it another shot.

And now the fuzzy details have cleared up.  The beginning is gruesome.  It is not for the weak-stomached or faint-hearted.  There are bugs.  Lots of them.  Particularly maggots.  And Matthew Pearl is a very skilled writer in making you squirm. 

He is also a very smart writer.  Smart as in he knows a lot of stuff.  And he spends the first third of the book dumping that stuff on you.  To the point where it can drag a bit and confuse you as to who's who.  Every man in the story has outrageous facial hair and is or at one point was married to women named Fanny.  It took me quite some time to get everyone straight in my head. 

This is historical fiction taking place in Boston at the end of the Civil War.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is translating Dante's Divine Comedy into English with the help of his friends, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and JT Fields.  This is the historical part.  The fiction part is that a mad man is on the loose and is killing people in very Dantean fashions.  Hence, the maggots.  The four men recognize the patterns and set out to figure the whole thing out.

Once I got over the ickiness at the beginning and got used to his style of information overload I could hardly put it down.  It moved along at a pretty good pace.  The majority of the information he dumps on you was pretty interesting.  And the mystery was great.  I love it when I'm completely surprised by the killer.  I mean, I was shocked!  I gasped rather loudly. 

I should put it out there that you don't have to know anything about the four main characters or Dante to enjoy it.  I didn't know anything about him or the Divine Comedy other then that there are various circles of Hell.  But you should probably have an appreciation for literature in general.  The mystery can stand alone but you're going to get a lot of literary critique with it.


Teresa p said...

I'll admit I haven't picked up The Last Dickens because of how squeamish The Dante Club made me. In the end, it was good, I just wasn't sure I could handle another book like it. I'll try the Dickens one now though.

Rachel said...

The Last Dickens was not nearly as icky as the Dante Club. I'm sure there had to have been some disturbing things - that seems to be his style - but I don't remember squirming due to bugs and guts and feet aflame.

colleeeen said...

Crud, I read this book well over a year ago and have since forgotten 99% of it. So much for retention.