Anyone who is a movie buff will love a film that talks about a film. In the similar logic, enthusiastic bloggers will search and find blogs who talk about blogging. This kind of appeal, no,- strike that; this kind of devotion to a passion that got me picking up that copy of “Dante Club” and started reading.
Now, by talking about Dante Club, I make a risqué decision of writing about a book whose hype has passed away long time ago. In fact, Matthew Pearl has already launched his next novel, – The Last Dickens, for quite some time now. That’s why I started this piece with a statement about my passion. For a people like me, literature is a lust. And we know there are no rights or wrongs when it comes to our own personal fetishes.
Back to the book, it seems to me that a book like this could be read by more than one framework. You could try to read it as a detective story, for example. Which is good, particularly if you happen to be a fan of a classic, timeless piece of gumshoe like the ole Sherlock. Or you can try to delve into those rich details about classical pieces of Dante’s, dig deep into his life and just swallow ravenously everything Pearl had to offer as a Dante scholars. This is how I read the book. Quickly, I got lost in an informed exposition and discourses about Dante scattered throughout the novel. I had not much success in finding partners to discuss about classical literature in the past. So in this way, this book almost served as a peer who offer his own, personal interpretation of La Divina Commedia. It’s exhilarating, – to say the least.
However, this love of literature also has its bane, at least for me in this case. I was amazed, even almost flattered, to immerse myself in a world populated by a star-studded cast with the likes of Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Not to mention Longfellow himself. I mean, who hasn’t heard about Paul Revere and remain quite unmoved by it ? This was augmented when I read about The Club itself. About how did it started the concept of what we know today as a Book Club. About the vast possibilities of intellectual discussion such a club could contain. Add to that some details of the personal lives of those literary giants, and I quickly got intoxicated.
In turn, this has made me failed my attempt to appreciate wholly the book as a mystery/thriller work. Pearl did it justice by carefully arranging the plot and giving the readers just enough excitement by using gruesome details of his depiction of the bodies. Yet I still fail to feel that bite I felt when I read a smart classic work of whodunit acted out by Holmes or Poirot. There was not enough atmosphere to create a sense of danger in this book. I’m referring to that sense of thrill you find where every page feel adventurous for you, – where you feel like turning a page is exactly like turning a dark corner in London where you just don’t know what you might bump into.
To do justice to Pearl, of course you can’t write such an amalgamated work of literary thriller quite satisfactorily. There is simply no technical way to do it well. You are torn between expounding on your literary theme, – and building that fast-paced, dramatic tension necessary for a thriller. Also, the fact that I am a fan of literature didn’t help at all. Maybe, just maybe, anyone who doesn’t have any idea about Dante will enjoy this book so much better than me. Because a hell of a debut this one surely is.