Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Matthew Pearl's "The Last Dickens"

Matthew Pearl is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow, and is the editor of the Modern Library editions of Dante’s Inferno (translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest novel, The Last Dickens, and reported the following:
In recruiting Charles Dickens as a subject and a character in my novel, I wanted to explore his unique high wattage celebrity. The main thread of the book takes place in 1870 as an American publisher named James Osgood must search to find the ending to Dickens's last book in order to save his publishing firm and, ultimately, his own life. Interspersed are two sections that take place a few years earlier, late 1867-early 1868, when Dickens was touring the United States in a landmark reading tour.

Page 99 finds us in one of those "flashbacks" as Dickens and his entourage weave through American fans, ticket speculators and one relentless celebrity stalker. When I say "entourage" I mean it. Dickens brought along a dresser, in charge of each outfit Dickens wore, a ticket agent, a theatrical manager, a gas-lighting expert, and one or more unnamed assistants. In The Last Dickens, I've created a fictional member of the entourage, a young Irish porter named Tom Branagan, who becomes a protector. On page 99, Tom is contemplating the fame of his boss. "Tom had helped keep the onlookers away when Dickens had arrived at the Parker House; he was not surprised by their presence but by their persistence. A young woman yanked out a piece of fringe from Dickens's heavy gray and black shawl; a man excited to touch the novelist took the opportunity to pull a clump of fur from his coat."

With the rest of the entourage in denial, Tom suspects that one of the fans is out to harm Dickens, a suspicion which soon turns urgent. (The stalker plot is based on a real incident during the tour.) The chase for the stalker ultimately ties together with the intrigue surrounding the lost ending of Dickens's last novel.
Read an excerpt from The Last Dickens, and learn more about the author and his work at Matthew Pearl's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Poe Shadow.

--Marshal Zeringue