Book 400: The Dante Club – Matthew Pearl

Pearl, Matthew - The Dante ClubAnd another TBR bites the dust! This book has been hanging out on my bookshelves since December of 2012 when I picked it up at one of my favorite used bookstores, Edward McKay, back in NC. More importantly, it is the 26th book from my TBR shelves this year. How awesome is that? That’s more than 1/3 of all the books I’ve read this year and I am incredibly happy and proud of that number.

I don’t know why I put off reading The Dante Club for so long. Maybe it was in some sort of effort to actually read all of Dante’s Divine Comedy before I read it, but that obviously hasn’t happened. The other thing that has left me wondering since I finished it , and honestly since I started it, is I can’t quite put my finger on why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I feel I should have.

The Dante Club is a book about books, writers, publishing, Boston and a book-based murder mystery thrown in. Theoretically, it ticks all of my “OMG, YES!” boxes, but for some reason it just didn’t do it for me. Shockingly, I was almost right on with my rating when I looked at Goodreads, so that is both reassuring and worrying 😉

The more I think about it the more I believe what put me off the book was the incredibly slow pacing and the extra side stories. The few mystery novels that I’ve read have been either very fast paced or have had succinct stories with few side stories. I understand that “red herrings” are necessary for mystery novels, but in this one they got to a point of tediousness where I wasn’t thinking “WHAT!? No! I was convinced it was them,” and more so thinking “What else is Pearl going to throw at me to make me think I’m confused.”

This being said there were bits that I thoroughly enjoyed including the revelation of the killers name and the comprehension of this by one of the main characters, genius.  I also thoroughly enjoyed Pearl’s recreation of Boston. There were so many of those names that are still relevant today and which are bandied about by fundraisers left and right. It mad me laugh to think I’d met at least two decedents of these people! (Not that I made the connection at the time, Ha!)

One quote about Boston in particular got me,

“After a man begins to attack Boston, when he gets bitter about the Frog Pond or the State House, you may be sure there is not much left of him. Poor Edgar Poe died in the hospital soon after he got into this way of talking, so sure as you find a fellow reduced to this, you had better stop lending him money—for he is on his last legs.” (170-171)

And really it made me laugh. It made me think of the people who have turned visceral against the city and the longer they stayed the worse off they became. I’m sure it’s in every city and town, but people know you’re disgruntled with the city and it closes doors. You don’t even have to say anything, but in cities that are older and seriously formal people know and it sucks for you. Sure a lot of it is people putting on airs, but seriously people know when you don’t like their home.

Recommendation: Unless you REALLY like one of these authors or this time period I would pass. Pearl’s writing didn’t bother me because there were moments of great insight as seen in the quotes below, but I have to wonder if they were his or taken from the fictionalized writers real life? I will say that some of his other works (The Last Bookaneer and The Technologist) sound really, really, interesting, so I’m not  counting him out yet!

Opening Line: “John Kurtz, the chief of the Boston police, breathed in some of his heft for a better fit between the two chambermaids.”

Closing Line: “Longfellow, as he climbed up, hoped he would not be asked to speak in front of all the guests during the banquet, but if he were, he would thank his friends for bringing him along.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)

Additional Quotes from The Dante Club
“Till America has learned to love literature not as an amusement, not as mere doggerel to memorize in a college room, but of its humanizing and ennobling energy, my dear reverend president, she will not have succeeded in that high sense which alone makes a nation out of people. That which raises it from a dead name to a living power.” (31)

“Great scientists can sometimes be an impediment in the path of science, Lowell. Revolutions are not made by men in spectacles, and the first whispers o a new truth are not caught by those in need of ear trumpets. Just last month, I was reading in a book on the Sandwich Islands about an old Fejee man who had been carried away among foreigners but who prayed he might be brought home so that his brains might be beaten out in peace by his son, according to the custom of those lands. Did not Dante’s son Pietro tell everyone after Dante’s death that the poet did not mean to say he really went to Hell and Heaven? Our sons beat out their fathers’ brains very regularly.” (201)

“However much you educate a man out of his superstitions, he will always think as the Frenchwoman did about ghosts: Je n’y crois pas, mais je las crains—I don’t believe in them, but I fear them nevertheless.” (250)


10 thoughts on “Book 400: The Dante Club – Matthew Pearl”

  1. I have this book soomewhere on my shelves, too, so I’m sorry to hear it wasn’t as good as you were hoping. But I’m also not surprised. The reason I haven’t read my copy yet is because I tried reading one of his other books (The Poe Shadow), but couldn’t get into it at all. I was hoping this one would be better.. I wonder what his other books are like…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh now that makes me wonder about the two that I think sounded a lot better. I will say the end was a lot better than the beginning. I think he puts so much on the historical fact and detail that the story line ultimately suffers a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I might recommend counting him out – The Last Bookaneer also seemed like it ticked all of the boxes for me, mostly the book-related ones, but I felt as though it dragged. I just never got emotionally invested! I’ll definitely not be giving the author another chance myself. Too much time wasted already!

    Liked by 1 person

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