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Esquire
Wednesday, February 5th, 2003


 

The Dante Club

by Matthew Pearl

Dante Mania

A review by Adrienne Miller

In case Jerry Bruckheimer is reading this, here's the pitch: It's Super Friends meets 19th-century American literature! Matthew Pearl's debut novel, The Dante Club, is an audacious and captivating, if flawed, new book that imagines a string of unspeakable murders in Boston, each influenced by Dante's Inferno. Who can solve these devilish crimes? Why, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, famous writers and Dante obsessives who are called in as CSIs. Pearl's Dante scholarship is truly admirable, and hats off to anyone who's this passionate about the crazy Florentine — or, indeed, to anyone who's this passionate about anything. Unfortunately, Pearl seems to be under the impression that people in Civil War–era Boston spoke like Hollywood's idea of 18th-century Brits. ("I fear you think me a great churl, Professor Lowell.") Still, you've got to admire his enthusiasm. As Holmes says to Lowell, "I fear I will catch your Dante mania." The book is commercial melodrama and is, as such, deeply seductive. Don't be surprised if, after having read The Dante Club, you find yourself revisiting your old tattered college-issued Inferno. How much, it turns out, you've been missing.

Adrienne Miller is Esquire's literary editor.


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