27 June 2007

The Poe Shadow

I really enjoyed Matthew Pearle’s The Dante Club so I eagerly approached his sophomore offering, The Poe Shadow. Whereas Dante focused on Longfellow and the other Harvard scholars who were involved in translating Dante’s Inferno, The Poe Shadow delves into the mystery of Edgar Allen Poe’s death in Baltimore. The protagonist, Quentin Clark, is a young, slightly excitable lawyer who rejects his previous life of comfort and social standing to embark upon a multi-year quest to unearth the secrets surrounding Poe’s final days.

Matthew Pearl uses his literary research skills to infuse his work of fiction with historical authenticity and continuity. It was this ability to seamlessly blend fiction and non-fiction that made me such an admirer of The Dante Club. However, The Poe Shadow never succeeds in capturing the excitement and intrigue that marked Dante. Clark is a bit too naïve and impressionable a character and while his commitment to solving the mystery of Poe’s demise is clear, he comes off as a bit of an anguished dilettante. It isn’t any great shocker when in the end he realizes that his years of work have yielded few answers, many additional questions, and fueled the coffers of several charlatans and carpet-baggers looking to make a name for themselves. Gee - it sounds like academia...

“…to guess is one of the most elevated and indestructible powers of the human mind, a far more interesting art than reasoning or demonstration because it comes to us directly from imagination.”

1 comment:

versemicroverse said...

It was encephalitis caused, most likely, by a rabid mammal (probably a bat). Poe's symptoms, while seeming to suggest intoxication, are remarkably similar to a swelling of the brain. We're waiting for the EEE threat to emerge this summer in Rhode Island.