Title: The Dante Chamber
Writer: Matthew Pearl
Publishing House: Penguin Press
Date of Publication:May 29th 2018
Rating: 3 stars
‘’A poet never sees ghosts.’’
London, 1869. The metropolis is buzzing in its heyday. The glamorous Victorian court, the elegant literary circles, the world that changes. And right there, visible to all, yet unacknowledged by the elite, stands the underbelly. The polluted, dirty, dangerous city corners, the people in the margin, the ones who dwell in darkness because what choice do they have, really? Murders that seem inspired by Dante’s Purgatory start taking place and Dante Gabriel Rossetti vanishes. Christina Rossetti, Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson try to follow the leads and discover the answers, fighting their own demons along the way.
Matthew Pearl creates a literary mystery set in the most suitable city for a story like this one. London with its grey corners and great inequality. London with its cultural scene and the ghosts of the past. Dante’s The Divine Comedy is cleverly used as a mysterious and dubious vehicle for the development of the story. Christina Rossetti’s character is the driving force of the novel, her intellect and determination exert the proper magnetism to sustain the readers’ interest.
However, the novel suffers from its own ambition, in my opinion. I felt that Browning and Tennyson were depicted in an almost pretentious way and Gabriel Rossetti was a rather colourless character. Although the chapters aren’t especially long, at times I had the feeling that the writer was beating around the bush and the writing felt purposeless whereas the closure seemed rather convenient and, frankly, unoriginal. On the bright side, the depiction of the setting and the dialogue were quite satisfying.
So, an interesting novel that has numerous exciting and elegant moments to offer but in the end, I wouldn’t call it ‘’memorable.’’ Just one more historical novel which we have seen by the dozen of late.
‘’Life is a coin that I once shared, but which has now quite passed from my pocket into another’s doubtless rightful enough. Only I desire no half farthing of its small change.’’