Ed Mestre's Reviews > The Poe Shadow

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl
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's review
Jun 24, 2011

liked it

My rating should actually be taken as 3.5 stars.

This is the 2nd book involving Edgar Allan Poe I've read in the past year. The other being "The Beautiful Cigar Girl" a work of non fiction & this being historical fiction. It takes place in mid 19th century Baltimore at the time of Poe's death which the press has leaped upon as an object lesson of the evils of drink. A young lawyer & admirer of Poe becomes incensed at this slander & sets out to make the record straight, but his obsession may cost him everything professionally, materially, romantically, and perhaps even his sanity, if not his life. Baltimore is vividly drawn as that bipolar city just below the Mason-Dixon line that exhibits aspects of the antebellum South & Northern urban society only a decade before the Civil War. The intrigue extends to Paris of Louis Bonaparte and is filled with characters that range as widely as those two cities do geographically & culturally.

Pearl capture the formality & understatement of 19th century prose at times even showing echoes of Poe himself. Often I felt there would be some loose thread that would remain unexplained, but by the end, like a Dickens' novel, all the threads come together in a more or less satisfactory way. The overriding question throughout is how much is historical & how much is fiction. But the Historical Notes after the novel concludes clears that up as well. As it turns out quite a bit is true, but there are enough gaps in the record to give Pearl the room to imagine quite a tale of nearly every intrigue imaginable.
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