I have just completed The Poe Shadow, by Matthew Pearl. It was enjoyable, and I think Poe enthusiasts in particular will find it interesting. I found the writing style Pearl used in this novel reminded me of that of Poe — not so much in the subject matter, but in the type of language used. I am fairly certain this was intentional, and if it were not Poe that Pearl was after imitating, it certainly must have been the typical writer of the Victorian age.
The plot revolves around Quentin Clark, a (rare) fan of Poe and defender of his character who seeks to discover the true circumstances behind Poe’s death. His quest mystifies his foster brother/law partner and fiancée, as well as almost everyone else he meets. He believes he will be unable to solve the case without the help of the man who was the model for Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. After some time, he determines a likely candidate for Dupin and asks for his help. The only problem is, another man also claims to be “Dupin” and decides to “help” whether Quentin likes it or not.
I feel that Pearl is an excellent historical writer when it comes to evoking the time period in which he writes. His characters are likable, believable characters. In his quest to discover the circumstances of Poe’s death, Quentin finds himself in some dangerous positions that might otherwise look like pure fantasy; however, in Pearl’s hands, they seem to be the logical conclusions of his quest.
I am not as familiar with Poe’s Dupin tales as I should have been; therefore, I would advise readers of The Poe Shadow to brush up on those stories before reading this novel. Pearl has conveniently written an introduction to a new collection of Poe’s Dupin stories, The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
I don’t think this is the kind of book that will enthrall folks who are nonreaders. If you enjoy reading, I think you will have the patience necessary to dedicate to a book like this. It is not difficult to comprehend, but it is not set in the present with references the average person living today would immediately understand. I don’t think it will challenge the ordinary person who likes to read, but I wouldn’t put it in the hand of someone who hates books. Actually, I don’t want to know anyone who hates books, but I have to work with all kinds as a teacher.
At his book reading/discussion here in Atlanta back in June, Pearl noted that some cut chapters from The Poe Shadow appear at his website. You can find many other interesting things there, including maps of Baltimore and a gallery of pictures, as well as a dossier of documents related to Poe’s death. You can also be Quentin Clark’s friend on MySpace if you have an account. As more writers and other artists start using MySpace, I see it has a huge potential to get the word out.
Surf through the website and MySpace, and if that, plus my little review, don’t have you intrigued enough to read it, then I give up: you’re hopeless.