Title: The Divine Comedy
Author: Dante Alighieri
Page Count/Review Word Count: 752
Okay, this is going to be a long one. It’s at times like these that I start to regret my rule of making each review have the same number of words as the book had pages, because The Divine Comedy is a bit of a beast. Nevertheless, the fact that it’s written in verse actually makes it easier to read because there aren’t too many words on the pages. I powered through the whole thing in three or four days, although I should also point out that I skipped Inferno because I’d already read that.
I think a lot of people think of The Divine Comedy as the kind of book that you can only enjoy if you’re an academic. I wouldn’t class myself as one – although I do write books of my own and I got an A in GCSE English Literature when I was sixteen – but I still enjoyed reading my way through it. I saw it as a challenge, and I like a challenge – so the fact that it was actually enjoyable came as a nice surprise.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s basically a three-parter of epic poems that take you on a journey through hell, purgatory and heaven, and while I’m not exactly the religious sort, I still thought that there was plenty there for me. In fact, Dante’s use of symbolism was one of the major draws for me, although I did often struggle to tell what he was talking about when he referred to Greek legends.
Of course, this isn’t the best book for everyone. You need to be a certain type of reader to enjoy it, but I for one am glad that I picked it up and gave it a chance. Sure, it taxes the brain a bit as you’re working through it, but it feels more like a mental workout than actual torture and you feel better for it when you reach the end of it.
I even took the time to read all of the notes, because I’m a completionist, and I found the notes to be just as interesting as the rest of the book. They added a huge amount of extra information that kept it all interesting, and it was great to be able to put things into context and to actually understand what Dante was on about. I think that part of that is thanks to the impressive work by C. H. Sisson, the translator of the edition that I read, and the great job he did of translating the work into English. The language still feels a little old, of course, but it’s not so inaccessible that it drives the reader away.
So overall, The Divine Comedy deserves its place as a rightful classic as part of the literary canon, and I think it belongs on all of those lists that talk about the books you should read before you die. After all, this basically covers what happens next – if you believe in that sort of thing. I don’t, but when you start to see religious work as fiction, it allows you to enjoy the elements of the story itself. It adds a whole new dimension.
I would recommend this book, but only to certain people. I don’t think my mum would enjoy it, for example, but I think my friend Neil would. You have to be a literature lover to get the most of it, but don’t be put off because it’s required reading or anything like that – it’s a genuinely interesting read, if only to put the wider literary canon into perspective. Better still, Dante’s language is beautiful (unless it’s just the translator), and his writing is great to read for its own sake. Although you will enjoy it more if you understand what’s actually happening.
Just don’t be put off by the length of it or by any reputation that proceeds it. And if you’re worried that you might not enjoy it, start with a copy of The Inferno and then see how you get on with that. If you liked it, like I did, then you can pick up The Divine Comedy and whizz through it by only reading the two thirds of it that you haven’t already read. Result.
Basically, only you can decide whether you’re willing to make the commitment. But for my part, I don’t regret it.