By Dana Gavin
(Books and films with which The Eight was first compared)
I can empathize with you at this very moment: you have just put down The Eight, and you’ve had to let go of characters with whom you’ve spent some 500 pages, who have become very good friends. If you’re like me, you’ve contemplated just starting over again from page one. And there’s certainly no penalty in re-reading a great book!
However, this might also be the perfect moment for you to embrace a cast of characters in novels that, in one sense or another, have a similar flavor to The Eight. So here is my attempt at a quick survey of comparative literature, with a book that many feel may brook no comparisons!
(1844) The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
This complex, highly-interwoven tale set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Era, has all the elements of a rollicking mystery: a secret treasure, duplicitous figures, disguises and contrivances, and a long nurtured desire to exact revenge. The Count of Monte Cristo stands as one of the most influential texts, having spawned comparable literary works, songs, television shows, comic books – you name it, The Count has conquered it. And consider yourself lucky: In 1844, readers had to wait for all 18 parts of The Count of Monte Cristo to arrive in print, to find out if Edmond Dantès would avenge the wrongs leveled against him. You, however, have all the pieces bound in a single, glorious novel.
The Washington Post once noted the many Dumas influences reflected in Neville’s work, and the author herself has concurred. Indeed, by way of tribute, Alexandre Dumas himself appears as a character in the sequel to The Eight: The Fire (2008.)
(1859) A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
If you found yourself caught up in the political machinations in The Eight that swirl around Mireille and Valentine in Paris, you must snap up A Tale of Two Cities—especially if the only memory you have of this rich novel is being forced to take a test on it in high school. Dickens delivers a heart-wrenching tale of love and loss on the small scale – in the lives of French emigre Charles Darnay, his wife Lucie, and their friend Sydney Carton – against the backdrop, on a vaster scale, of the toll that violence takes upon society. Unrequited love motivates English barrister Carton to consider what part that his physical redemption of the French prisoner Darnay might play in Carton’s own spiritual salvation. This is perhaps Dickens’s most sober novel, but his characters are still webbed together through the unexpected connections that unfold as the novel progresses.
In The Eight, Neville pays homage to Dickens by using many of these complex yet surprising plot devices: mistaken identities, exchange of roles, the selfless sacrifice of one life for another, and last-moment revelations of family relationships, to name just a few.
(1865) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and (1872) Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
It is perhaps adequate to point out that, throughout The Eight, Neville uses the recurring chess and puzzle themes that appear in the Alice books, as well as her lavish use of Carrollian quotations, allusions, and allegories, She even pays homage to Carroll’s characters (like Lily Rad as The Lily, or Nim as the Cheshire Cat). Numerous articles have been written about the parallels between these books, and some already appear on this web site.
(1980) The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco; 1983 English translation by William Weaver
Return to the mysterious landscape of an Abbey like that of Montglane (but this time in Italy) with William of Baskerville and his trusty apprentice Adso of Melk, who investigate murder most foul. If “Baskerville” seems a familiar name, you’re right – our William shares the same inductive style of the great detective, Sherlock Holmes. Eco weaves a tale that marries his own fascination with semiotics (the study of signs and symbols) with William’s valiant efforts to use pure logic in the face of the magical hysteria that reigns over the monastery where the murders are taking place. A library might hold the key to unlocking the truth of a series of murders – William of Baskerville has to navigate intellectual puzzles (as well as physical mazes) in the midst of this religious fervor. This is a post-modern novel that grapples with the meaning of meaning as it paints a captivating picture of cloistered beings in the Middle Ages.
Katherine Neville has been quoted in interviews as saying that she first read The Name of the Rose when she was more than halfway through writing The Eight and she was horrified: the opening scene, set in Umberto Eco’s fictitious monastery, was so similar to the description of Montglane Abbey that Neville had already written, that she went home that same night and shredded her own opening scene! That was not the only similarity between the books, for Neville, as a computer exert like her Italian counterpart, a trained semiotician had spent all of her professional life surrounded by symbols. Both books are replete with puzzles and encryptions deploying these tools of their respective trades. “However,” says Neville, “the biggest difference between Umberto’s tales and mine, is that in my stories, the women get to solve all the puzzles and arrive at all the brilliant deductions!”
(1981) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
This is a good time to put down the books and feel at home in the realm of film. Like Cat and Mireille in The Eight, Henry “Indiana” Jones is on a quest to recover an exotic piece of antiquity as in subsequent Indiana Jones films, it is a piece that also tends to have rather other-worldly properties. In Raiders, Indy is bent upon recovering the seemingly apocryphal Ark of the Covenant, which contains a magnificent power that can be harnessed by whoever possesses it. Sound familiar?
Neville confesses that Stephen Spielberg thinks so much like her, in fact, that, astonishingly, she had once drafted part of a novel called “The Adventures of Colorado Jones” (so called after a boyfriend of hers who liked, among other things, to sail the high seas in storms and to go white-water tubing in the Colorado rapids!) As with Umberto Eco, she had to shred several scenes The Eight because they suddenly appeared (“snatched from my brain”) in the Indiana Jones movie, before her book was published.
About Dana Gavin:
Journalist Dana Gavin is the editor of the “Weekend” section of The Hudson Valley News. A graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where she studied creative writing, Gavin–a seasoned ballet dancer–was also dance critic for the Dallas Morning News and a frequent contributor to Dance, the publication of the Dance Council, as well as Dance Magazine and other local magazines. Currently, she resides in Hyde Park, New York, and continues to write about arts and culture.