Netflix’s The Pale Blue Eye is an adaptation of Louis Bayard’s 2006 historical novel of the same name. Bayard has always avoided the usual pitfalls of historical fiction. Such novels can often feel mundane, like a middle school civics teacher’s side project, by reducing the complexity of their subjects to easily digestible narratives. The worst historical novels make history a dull, flat object—nothing more than a painted backdrop for worn-out tropes. But Bayard has always acted in a different way, less interested in the cold facts of history than in the people he pulls out of it to color his stories.
“The Pale Blue Eye” was no exception. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly stated, “This beautifully crafted thriller stands head and shoulders above other recent efforts to fictionalize Poe.” Bayard studied at Princeton with Joyce Carol Oates before earning a journalism degree from Northwestern and then working for the US House of Representatives (via The Washington Post), and his writing reflects that wealth of experience.
He sublimates the relationship between Augustus Landor and Edgar Allen Poe in a queer subtext that resonates well beyond the novel’s historical setting. As Landor states at a crucial moment, “The past comes with the full force of the present.” Ultimately, it is the tenderness between the detective and the poet, rather than the murder mystery, that serves as the book’s true revelation.
A reprint of The Pale Blue Eye with cover artwork from the Netflix film has been made available. Bayard teaches at George Washington University and his most recent novel, Jackie & Me, was published in 2022.