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Pearl explores the mystery after Dickens

BY REBECCA KOONS | MARCH 26, 2009 7:40 AM

Harvard and Yale graduate turned New York Times bestselling author Matthew Pearl is a prime example of being well-rounded. A Florida native, Pearl studied literature and law, but his passion for the former re-emerged as almost a “happy accident” of sorts, through experimenting with writing scenes that became his first novel, The Dante Club.

“I had enjoyed studying literature so much, when I found myself in a position where I didn’t have as much an opportunity to do so — while in law school — I think my brain searched for a different outlet for those interests,” he said.

He will read from his most recent novel, The Last Dickens, at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. The Last Dickens is a thrilling work of historical fiction, in which Charles Dickens’ struggling publisher (James Osgood) sends a young man (Daniel Sand) to retrieve Dickens’ last novel, left unfinished as a result of his untimely death. When Daniel’s body is discovered, James sets off on his own quest, with the help of Rebecca, Daniel’s sister, to recover the unfinished novel, save his business, and bring Daniel’s assailant to justice.

The Last Dickens is the result of Pearl’s love for Charles Dickens as well as his “fascination with unfinished books and the rise of modern publishing.” This, he said, was “fuel for the thriller and mysteries” of the novel.

“Because the author did not get to finish, we the reader become more instrumental and influential in how the work of art is read,” he said. “I wanted to dramatize the exciting feeling of that by seeing how Dickens last novel influences a series of characters right after his death.”

The art of the novel, and literature as a whole, has been around for as long as anyone can remember. It is only in this age of instant gratification and digitized lifestyles that a physical book does not quite carry, for many, the excitement of a Kindle or an iPod. As technology advances, many find themselves questioning the role of books in culture.

“In the time of Dickens, and the setting of my novel, the physical pages of a book become very important keys to unlocking and understanding an author’s stories, as does handwriting,” Pearl said. However, he said, he worries about “where the physical book and reading process will fit in” with the progression of technology.

Despite how things may change in the years to come, he remains fervent in his passion for writing, and he is always seeking to challenge himself. The Last Dickens has given a kick-start to these types of challenges — the novel presented him with writing a “dual narrative” in two different time periods, which was a first for him. Whether he decides to expand into other genres in the near future or not, one thing he always keeps in mind is his fellow readers and what they ultimately gain from reading his work — even if it means reading someone else’s works too.

“First and foremost, I hope to always tell a story worth telling and that keeps the readers engaged,” Pearl said. “But I’m also always very gratified if readers of my book want to read more from my source material — whether Dante, Poe, or in this case Dickens.”


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