What do the works of Alexandre Dumas and a rare, ancient text with instructions to summon the devil have in common? That is what Lucas Corso strives to discover in Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas (translated by Sonia Soto).
Corso, a middle-man of the rare book world, decides to kill two birds with one stone and verify the authenticity of a chapter from the manuscript for The Three Musketeers while comparing another client’s copy of The Nine Doors with two other copies, each credited with being the one true original in existence. In his travels, however, real people quickly become corpses while archetypal characters come to life. Corso struggles to find the connection before someone stops him for good.
I had a hard time focusing in the beginning of the novel. It was mostly just me with my mind sending me weird places (a number of early references to Sabatini’s Scaramouche had “Bohemian Rhapsody” stuck in my head for a while). Also, the writing style felt a little choppy, something I thought might be the translation of the text from its original Spanish.
After the first few chapters though, the characters became clearer and the choppiness of the writing ceased to be a distraction from the story. Though the inclusion of some of the illustrations from The Three Musketeers was a little unnecessary, I’m glad that the woodcut images from The Nine Doors were available. When Corso discovers the differences between the ones from his client’s copy and the others, I think it would have been helpful to have at least some of them included to compare with the ones shown to the reader earlier, but it wasn’t essential to the telling of that part of the story.
While some may find the character of Lucas Corso annoying in his pessimism, I found him enjoyable. I loved the way that Perez-Reverte, through Corso, was able to play with the line between reality and fiction, acknowledging Corso’s character-hood as a sort of inside joke with the reader. It managed to creep up several times without pushing the point too far.
What The Club Dumas boils down to is a book about books for book lovers. There are so many references to other works, the main one being Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, it will be enjoyed most by those familiar with all of them (though Corso admits, there are some characters that transcend into common familiarity, that there are characters recognizable even to those who have never read a word of the works in which they star).
My favorite scene has very little to do with the main action of the novel. Corso references Moby Dick several times, especially in relation to his friendship with a book dealer, LaPonte. Having discussed Melville’s novel many times, Corso a one point recounts their re-imagining of the novel from Queequeg’s point of view. It was an idea I found so intriguing that as much as I loathe Moby Dick, I would seriously consider revisiting it for that side of the tale.
The dual story lines of The Dumas Club spin closer and closer together as the novel progresses, creating a whirlpool of action and excitement that draws you in and holds your attention through the conclusion. Perez-Reverte doesn’t answer all of the questions that pop up in the course of the novel, but he still manages to end it on a satisfying note. I may look into some of his other novels, though I will do so keeping an eye out for how the translator(s) affect the writing style.