Here’s the thing Gabriel’s inferno
is way way behind being some sort of favorite book of mine but I’m writing my second review about it. It started pretty easy, the first time I read the book I was so disappointed, so frustrated with it that I wrote a small review. A friend of mine called it a polite destruction. Ok, maybe I was a bit mean, but only a bit and just because of my frustration with the main characters. I know now I’ve been expecting too much from this book. When I started it I hoped to be reading some sort of a new Byatt’s Possession
. Unfortunately that was not the case. Gabriel’s Inferno
and Gabriel’s rapture
are far, far away from being as well and cleverly written or possessing some real interpretation of the masterpieces of occidental literature.
But let’s start with the plot. Briefly, it’s a love story between a professor and his student related somehow to the story of the Italian poet Dante and his love for a young woman called Beatrice. I do not intend to tell you the whole story, you already know it at least by reading the book description or others’ reviews. So far so good. She falls in love with him the moment she sees him and apparently he’s attracted by her shyness, modesty and innocence. That first meeting is before they’re professor and student. He’s a bad boy, a lonely lost boy, an adopted rebellious young man; she’s in high school with a drunk for a mother and an absent father. But this first meeting we acknowledge it only briefly, only in a memory she recalls one time. She had a lousy boyfriend who cheated on her with her roommate. Apparently this must be some sort of a major drama, a severe psychological trauma, her highness still suffers from. Her name is Julia or maybe I should say Julianne, the professor only calls her that way, but why I would never know. When we meet him he is one pretentious fool. I recommend you to read Laura de Steiguer's excellent review
on the subject and her list of pretentious shit she so cleverly picked in the book. It’s all true. And with all his manners he calls her Julianne. Honestly that drove me crazy. And of course he’s a…let me say it for you… a Dante specialist. At 32, when we know later he has been a cokehead while writing his dissertation in Harvard about Dante. Poor Dante. Maybe one day, I’ll name my cat on him. I forgot to tell you his name. Gabriel. Like the archangel who tells Virgin Mary she’s pregnant with the Savior. It’s a beautiful name, I won’t deny it, but is he also so gorgeous? Apparently so, if we follow author’s description of him, his blue eyes, firmed, well toned body and black hair. Yummy yummy. Well, we’re talking about a Dante specialist, not some supermodel girls, let’s be a bit more respectful to the man. Gabriel and Julia meet again at Toronto University, he’s well respected professor, and she’s his student. Clichés’ bells ringing here. Ignore them. They meet, he does not remember her, but I won’t tell you why, let’s keep the great mystery. After a horrible night with a lot of vomiting, he finally sees her for who she is, oh god, she’s Beatrice! How romantic you’ll say, I suppose we can call it that if it wasn’t for the way it was said. And we finally embark on their story which developed in two books is highly sufficient, but because I guess trilogies are really fashionable these days, we’re expecting a third part to the series. I leave you here to discover the rest of the story by yourself and go for the characters.
Gabriel, sweetheart, you’re such a tease. You have a beautiful name of an angel but you wear it the wrong way. The author wants him to be a fallen angel seeking redemption. If only. Gabriel has, as every well respected hero of his kind, a lot, a lot of women. He likes to fuck. Hard. But he meets her. And there’s no more fucking, no more getting laid, no more random toilet sex. She’s his exception, his better half, the girl who always changes the hero. Ok. He changes. But we can’t see why, except of course for her beauty, modesty, shyness, innocence, intelligence… (Add here another noble quality and you got it). Oh, I forgot to tell you, his Latin is excellent like his Italian, French, Spanish and German… But wait, we don’t know about his ancient Greek or maybe Finnish… Quel dommage!
… Now, I’m sure your hearths swells with love for him… Good. Shall we continue? He has an impeccable taste for clothes, don’t ask why or from where he got it, he just has it, he’s Gabriel for god’s sake! He knows how to make dinner, how to make love, has a lot of money (inherited but unwanted) and a great brain. His Excellency is marvelous, isn’t he? Is there a cliché that has been spared?
She. Julia. Beatrice. Rabbit. Oh, how silly of me, I forgot to tell you about Paul, her knight in shiny armor. He thinks of her like some sort of a small animal, preferably rabbit, not a hamster, and mouse would be pejorative. I get the point. We have to see her for what she is and apparently the rabbit describes her best. But the way Paul says it, it’s just plain creepy. Paul’s her classmate, a PhD to be assistant to the professor, a full time hero and a part of an intended love triangle. But there’re so many women for Gabriel that we cannot call it a triangle but more of a polygone. Julia does not understand why Gabriel loves to spend his evenings at the local club (Almost a maison close
to him), but she wears a tongue and wonders if he could see it from where he stands (at the same club).Hmmm. And Rodin’s Le Baiser is too… arousing for her. Well, I wish I could call her a prude, but I’ll be a hypocrite. Her character is so confusing that she always manages to irritate me. Finally, when you construct a character, he or she must be at least logical in his/her thoughts and actions. Even the most irrational characters are logical in their conception.
I have no desire to delve into the other characters. Paul is a creepy sweetheart, Paulina and Christa (two of Gabriel's harem) are bitches but this is how deep it goes with all of them. They are just accessory characters. Like the sister, the father, the mother, etc. who’re either entirely good or bad. I see Monsieur Reynard tries to project in Gabriel a Byronic hero in all his glory and attributes but in my humble opinion he fails epically. And we have an ancient background story in the face of Dante and Beatrice. I respect that. It’s not a bad idea at all; it’s actually an interesting idea to develop, if it had been developed. But it was not. The author makes some space for verses from Dante’s Divine Comedy
and tries some art history lessons with Botticelli. It’s not working for me. The Academic world he tries to revive is lacking authenticity. Some Greek mythology, I thought of Orpheus and Eurydice, is trying its way out, but in the mediocrity of the writing it’s really hard. I wish all the symbolism, all the references and poetry to be better introduced, thought and developed. It could have been a great story that now I regret.