The Dante Club
by Matthew Pearl
The story is about well known writers, literary celebrities of their time and some even of today, forming a private club which studies Dante’s Divine Comedy. The club is busy translating the Italian into English for a grand anniversary celebrating the works and time of the Italian writer.
Meanwhile, a couple of murders take place in the Boston area and leads seem to point in the direction of the club. The club members strive to discover the real culprit of the crimes to clear their club of any suspicions. With a third murder, the club is in real hot water as the lead detective investigating the case has narrowed things down to either the club really being guilty of being connected to the crimes or else someone is simply using the club as a cover up to their own misdeeds.
The plot is intriguing, if not captivating. The references to Dante’s work are elucidating and enlightening. The descriptions of the Bostonian environs, the academia of the time, and the lives of the rich, the Brahmin, of Boston society are interesting and entertaining.
The book is not a great ‘read’
Though the book is really well written and demonstrates solidly that Pearl researched deeply before putting pen to paper, it still leaves too much to desire.
Paragraphs, no pages, can be read without the reader being able to retain what has been read. At times, even the most dedicated reader with the most committed attention span, finds lapses in the attention occurring. Trying to keep one’s attention focused ceaselessly is a real challenge. Why? It may be the passive sentence structure which Pearl uses far too readily. It may be overuse of the vernacular with its particular idioms which tests the depths of the reader’s historical or literary knowledge. It may be the lack of character development which means readers are not drawn or attached to any figure in the book. It may be the lack of depth to any one plot line, scene or event description, so readers are made to flit from one topic, one event to another too quickly, too soon before anything has really been described or explained.
There is no single aspect of the book that can be marked as the definitive reason as to why this book is an uncomfortable or unpalatable read.
In sum, give Dante Club a pass unless you really have an interest in the Bostonian society of post civil war USA. The book, as well written as it may be, and as well researched as it may be, is not an easy read. It definitely is not snowy night by the fireplace entertainment.