Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Title: The Club Dumas
Author: Arturo Perez-Reverte (translated from the Spanish by Sonia Soto)
Publisher: Vintage (1998)

I think The Club Dumas was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the popular serial form used by Alexandre Dumas. As a Dumas fan, I was pretty excited to read this. Admittedly, it’s been a few years since I read The Three Musketeers, which is the Dumas book this title references most often, but I’m pretty sure this book falls quite short of the goal. The serial was originally intended for popular consumption of light entertainment with an exciting – and possibly contrived – event occurring at the end of each portion of the serial. Characters were often larger than life, twists were almost expected, and heroes were easy to identify. The Club Dumas was extremely amusing but I don’t think the author was hoping the reader would be laughing at the book rather than with it. The only reason I finished this book was because I couldn’t believe it could get any shittier. Yet, it continued to do so and thus became a source of light entertainment. Since this author clearly did not work very hard on his book,* I am also going to take the lazy route with a bullet-point style rundown.

Story: The curtain rises on our narrator introducing the main character. Lucas Corso is, apparently, the guy you call when you want an old book. Not just any old book but one that is very valuable and probably in the possession of someone else…who doesn’t want to sell. In this case, he’s been asked to authenticate what looks like an original, handwritten chapter from The Three Musketeers. The owner of this chapter has recently been found hanging from his ceiling. Regardless of the suicide (murder?), Corso is still planning to authenticate the book. Various ridiculous and inexplicable events meant to scare our protagonist only spur him on. Except at this point he’s trying to authenticate a book about contacting the devil so we’re not sure why the baddies are after him: the Dumas manuscript or this devil book. This point remains unclear up to (and almost including) the stupidest fucking ending I've come by in a while.

Characterization: Each character in this book is over-done. I wouldn’t normally take too many points off for something like this in an obvious tribute but it was done quite poorly. It was like a director gave actors the script and background, asked them to study it for 2 years, then for no good reason the actors got all paranoid that they misunderstood everything, so they try way too hard when it finally comes down to shooting. This results in a bunch of people that aren’t very interesting because they aren't believable. Our intrepid hero is the worst of the lot. I don’t think he’s directly lifted from The Three Musketeers (I could be convinced otherwise) but he is certainly directly lifted from a number of badly written crime novels. Except at least in crime novels there are usually male characters that I actually believe women would want to sleep with^ and they [the guys] could be described as mercenaries. I’m willing to concede that I don’t know much about antique book dealing but I get the feeling this book is not the place to start learning. I have a feeling there’s less murder, arson, and theft involved in book dealing.

(ETA: Heh, maybe I was wrong about book dealing, and here's the book to prove it! I'm definitely going to have to check this out in case book collecting really is cut throat.)

^if this sentence doesn’t say everything that needs to be said about the use of females within the story then maybe you would like this book

Writing style: I have no complaints here. They style was smooth and serviceable. The words weren’t really worth reading but at least they were written properly.

Sidenote: As I was strolling the blogosphere, I came by a Reader that had created their personal Top 100 Books list. Before reading the list I perused around the blog and was a bit put off by the self-grandiose and sanctimonious attitude but, sucker that I am for book lists, I gave it a try. I had read a few on the list, not heard of many on the list, and was just starting to think I might give the list some respect when I saw Life of Pi was on there BUT THEN I SAW THE CLUB DUMAS! After getting over my shock (and wondering how a person that likes a book like this could be so arrogant) I decided it was very nice for the author. He took the trouble to write a novel and it’s nice that someone out there liked it. (actually I'm starting to think I'm the only one that didn't like this book because I keep coming by other positive reviews - what the crap is up with the madness?)

SPOILER WARNING – Plots points revealed below, highlight if interested:
The most interesting part of this story was Corso’s hanging out with the devil. Why the devil is around is never explained. The devil says it’s for protection but why? For the Dumas chapter? The devil book? For funsies? Things have been slow in hell lately? Anyway, like many other actions/motivations in the book you just have to stop asking why and continue laughing at the absurdities.
The devil appears as a young, beautiful, and perfectly molded woman (yes, this practically oozes with originality, I know) who is, at turns, interested in what is going on around her and completely flippant. Ostensibly this is to keep the reader guessing her true intent but it was entirely unnecessary; her intent never becomes clear so her shifting attitudes throughout the book are irrelevant. Naturally, she sleeps with Corso and, again, it’s not clear why.
However, towards the end of the book the devil starts saying more than 3 sentences at a time. Mostly she talks about her fight with God – as in the big one that gets her kicked out of heaven not their on-going disagreements. There’s no relevance to the story, or even to the scene within which the conversations take place, but they turn out to be very interesting.

rating: 1 of 5 stars

* As a writer myself I do realize what a blatant over-statement this is but I so fucking went there! I hated this book but even a bad book takes some effort...there just needed to be more effort in this case.

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