Friday, July 10, 2009

The Dante Club -- Matthew Pearl ------ 2.5 STARS

I have had this book on my list to read for a couple of years now. Historical fictions interests me, and the premise that poets James Russell Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes are translating Dante's Inferno while a serial killer is lurking through Cambridge sounds interesting. Unfortunately for me (I read the whole wretched book), the The Dante Club was less than stellar and struggled in a number of ways.

This may sound like an odd complaint but the book was far too slow while going too quick at the same time. Let me explain. Overall, from start until end, the book is very slow. Scenes develop at a snails pace and the whole plot could have been condensed into a couple hundred pages (it's pushing 400). However, Pearl also glosses over and quickly moves past some of the more interesting and worthwhile parts. He seemed to belabor the most boring of points and fly past anything that was worthwhile. He would constantly describe too much of the prosaic and not enough of the interesting.

There were some good moments... I felt like I really got to know the main characters and their wit and jovial attitudes made me like them more as the novel moved on. It was a decent mystery, and I certainly couldn't figure out who the killer was until the author nearly spelled it out. It was also nice to read about the poets mentioned earlier. I have read briefly about them in a far better book called The Metaphysical Club, and it was interesting to read about them in a fictional context.

Overall, the book received 2.5 stars, and I would not recommend it unless you really appreciate listless, languid writing in which the author take 25 words to describe something that could take five words. The story itself is fairly interesting and takes place right after the Civil War. If you do like it, let me know why. I think it won some awards, and I always appreciate others views on books I dislike (or like for that matter).

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