…The Dumas Club
I was planning to do a blog on ‘Downsizing by the Experts’, but decided at the last moment to divert briefly to our latest mini Parwich Book Club meeting. Disappointingly I know, no pearls of wisdom from the experts here…(I several times fell asleep while reading in the bath, as you may see.)
Every year the five of us, only one of whom after all these years (25?) still lives in Parwich, invite the husbands to join us for our Christmas Book Club meeting, a discussion followed always by a delicious and very jolly meal.
The ‘Christmas’ meeting is usually well into February or even later. For most of the rest of the year we agonise intermittently over a suitable book for the next meeting. We genuinely are very keen to find a book that everyone – men and women of varying ages and interests – will enjoy, and enjoy discussing.
This year our choice proved less than fortunate. Several years ago we had chosen The Fencing Master, by the very well known and well respected Spanish author, Arturo Perez Reverte. We had all enjoyed this book enormously, so it seemed a sensible and safe idea to try another by the same author.
Someone suggested The Dumas Club. We glanced at the glowing reviews and confidently plumped upon it as this year’s book choice.
The warning clues were already there, had we noticed. The reviews on the back cover did describe it as ‘a sophisticated and exciting intellectual game‘, and even more telling, Michael Kerrigan of the Scotsman describes it as ‘a dizzyingly complicated, dazzlingly allusive, breathlessly exciting novel of adventure and detection‘…
So dazzlingly allusive and dizzyingly complicated it turned out to be that only half of our happy group even managed to finish, let alone understand it. Most of those that did finish – thanks to determination rather than excitement – were left with such a whirl of questions and confusion that the discussion proved rather shorter than usual.
The book, which is over 300 pages long, has different narrators, a confusing number of characters and two parallel stories. The hero, who more or less – in theory – ties it all together is one Lucas Corso, a far from straightforward very experienced and well-respected antiquarian book dealer with many useful/shady contacts: ‘a mercenary of the book world’ who is willing to undertake any commission for the right price.
Corso is hired to investigate a rare copy of a book by Andre Dumas pere, and in the process finds himself also involved in researching mediaeval books on summoning the devil.
So, as you may have guessed, the action is far from plain sailing. We start with a graphically described but unexplained suicide and continue with a string of deaths and violent incidents. There is also an impressive amount of information about ancient manuscripts, and how they can be falsified, numerous (impressive) literary allusions and confusingly some are bogus. There are repeated illustrations with very minor alterations providing clues to a solution. Then there is the bewitching girl with green eyes, who seems to have no history…
Perez-Reverte is obviously a highly intelligent and well-educated man and a lot of the time one felt he was having some esoteric intellectual fun for himself and a select few of his more intelligent and better-educated readers, leaving the rest of us floundering.There are some light hearted moments, and humour, and wonderful descriptions, even when the subject matter is less than atractive . I don’t speak let alone read Spanish, but the book must have been skilfully translated as it is hard to remember the original is not even in English. It reads beautifully.
But in spite of these plus points I don’t think any of us had really enjoyed it, and we were all left with many questions which no one could answer. The final big question mark: who actually is the alluringly seductive girl with the mesmerising green eyes, eyes as green as grapes, who comes to Corso’s side?
The book ends ‘And everyone gets the devil they deserve.’
Is she an embodiment of the devil? Has Corso unwittingly summoned the devil…?
Please let us know if you have answers.