Magazine article The Spectator

From a Death to a View

Magazine article The Spectator

From a Death to a View

Article excerpt

THE POE SHADOW by Matthew Pearl Harvill Secker, £12.99, pp. 370, ISBN 9780436205459 . £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Poe's life, like his fiction, was often unhappy, melodramatic, obscure and downright mysterious. The circumstances of his death provide a perfect illustration of this curious correspondence between life and art.

In 1849, Poe left Richmond, Virginia, and vanished. A week later he reappeared in a Baltimore tavern. He was distraught and very ill. He had lost his money and he was wearing cheap, dirty clothes which did not belong to him.

Taken to hospital, he died raving four days later. According to the most reliable account available, he called repeatedly on a man named Reynolds, who has never been otherwise identified, and told his physician that the best thing a friend could do for him (Poe) was to blow out his brains with a pistol.

Scholars have advanced a variety of imaginative theories for his behaviour, ranging from alcoholism to political racketeering to rabies; and Matthew Pearl is the latest in a line of novelists who have proposed fictional solutions to the mystery.

His narrator, Quentin Clark, is a Baltimore lawyer who idolises Poe. In the process of investigating his hero's death, he upsets his fiancée, alienates his professional partner and finds himself obstructed at every turn. Clark receives a hint that Poe's famous detective, the Chevalier Auguste Dupin, was based on a real Frenchman. He travels to Paris to recruit the help of this forensic paragon. …

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