Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Dante Club – Matthew Pearl talks to ThreeMonkeys

Religion, violence, meditations on the nature of evil, and the nature of judgement. Is “The Dante Club” a political novel??

I don’t think of The Dante Club as political. However, many readers have seen political views in it, and I think this is fine. I strongly believe reading is a two-way street and that what readers bring to the discussion is as legitimate and important, or more so, than what the author brings.

Who are the current writers you admire?

I read more by book than by author. Recently, I finished reading Zoe Heller’s What Was She Thinking?, a wonderful novel, and I particularly ate up the voice of the narrator. Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose was an inspiration for The Dante Club. I guess that’s obvious — I don’t think there’s any historical thrillers today for which ,Name of the Rose didn’t open the eyes of the authors.

What do you think has made “in the name of the Rose” so popular?

I’ve given up trying to understand why certain books catch on and others don’t. Obviously, not all great books find a wide readership. In terms of historical fiction, though, Eco managed to convert authentic historical material into ammunition for an exciting and dangerous narrative.

Is it true that you hadn’t read any thrillers before writing the book?

No, that’s not true at all! Who said that?? I have said before that I never read EXCLUSIVELY thrillers. I read anything that’s put in front of me, pretty much, and love reading mysteries and thrillers, particularly those that break out of the mold of the ordinary.

I stand corrected! In that case, what kind of mysteries do you enjoy – any particular authors?

I particularly like seeing how mysteries developed over time. I’ve read and enjoyed stories from Conan Doyle to Raymond Chandler. It’s a genre that’s very aware of its past (in part because it only developed in the mid-19th century) and so you’re able to see it as a continuum of stories reacting to and against each other

Finally, what kind of reaction have you had from Italy in relation to the book? Any reaction similar to Bachi in the book -i.e “hands of Dante, he’s ours”?

At first, we had trouble convincing publishers in Italy to give the novel a chance for precisely the concern that it was an American writing on Dante. However, once a publisher took the risk, the reaction has been great. “Il Circolo Dante” was published by Rizzoli in October, has been on several Italian bestseller lists and is now in its 8th printing. I recently received this message on my Guestbook from Alice in Brescia, Italy:

“I’m an Italian girl and I study Dante at school…I first read “La Divina Commedia” when I was 8 years old and I loved it. And now, I love you book, Mr Pearl. I think it’s SO wonderful…I love your way of writing (I’m not the first and the last who think that!), and I must thank you ’cause you let me know a side of America that is not very known in Italy…now
I want to discovery everything about Longfellow and his Club. He (Longfellow) brought Italy in America and now you, with “The Dante Club”, are bringing America in Italy! So, THANK YOU! Hope to read a new book soon!!!^^ PS:Sorry for my English but I thought it was nicer write in English^^”

Now that probably addresses some of the cultural questions we’ve discussed in this interview far more elegantly that I could.

The Official Dante Club website

The World of Dante

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