Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard

The morning book group will start off the new year by discussing The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard on Friday, January 2 at 10:30 a.m. Set at West Point Academy in 1830, The Pale Blue Eye is the story of August Landor, a retired New York City constable who must solve the murder of a West Point cadet. Landor asks Edgar Allan Poe, a first year cadet at the Academy, to spy on the other cadets for him and generally help him with the investigation.

A few biographies of Poe, including Kenneth Silverman's Edgar A. Poe, confirm the accuracy of the historical details of The Pale Blue Eye, right down to the books that his French class read and the poem Poe wrote making fun of his instructor Joe Locke. Poe did tell a lot of lies about his family to West Point and the other cadets (among them, that his parents died in the Richmond theater fire of 1811 and that his grandfather was Benedict Arnold - who offered West Point to the British for 20,000 pounds in 1780). A cadet named Thomas Gibson said that Poe fretted over the rumor that Poe (at 21, much older than the other cadets) had substituted himself for his son, who (it was said) had died after receiving his cadet's appointment.

Here's a prank that does not show up in The Pale Blue Eye: Gibson came into the room that he and Poe shared with their roommates and said that one of their officers had been killed. Poe pretended not to believe him, "after which Gibson returned with a bloodied knife, swinging a bloody gander" that was supposed to be the decapitated head of the officer (page 62 of Kenneth Silverman's biography).

About Louis Bayard

Early History of West Point Military Academy

About Edgar Allan Poe

Discussion questions:

What does the title, The Pale Blue Eye, refer to?

What did you think about the plot twists and red herrings?

How important is the setting to the story?

If you're familiar with Louis Bayard's other novels, did this book live up to exceed your expectations?

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