The club Dumas

The club Dumas / Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad”
-Scaramouche

The club Dumas is a bibliophile’s adventure novel, and was the basis for the film The ninth gate starring Johnny Depp. It’s also one of my favorite books of all time.

Originally published in Spanish, I read the English translation. Pérez-Reverte is very picky when it comes to his translations (he originally did not allow his books to be translated into any language but French) and the English edition of The club Dumas is very well done.

Brief plot summary

Lucas Corso is a rare book dealer hired to authenticate a previously unknown manuscript of a chapter from Dumas’s The three musketeers. At the same time, he is commissioned to discover which of the remaining three copies of the book De umbrarum regni novem portis is the only genuine, non-counterfeit copy.

Lucas’s journey takes him all around Europe where he is joined by a mysterious American tourist in a series of incidents bearing a more than passing resemblence to the plot of The three musketeers.

So how is it?

As I mentioned above, it’s one of my favorite books of all time. Part of this is that I’m pretty much the books model target audience: I like 19th century adventure novels, rare books, and occult mysticism, the novel’s three main subjects. My interest in Revolutionary and Napoleonic era France is also echoed in the book, although it’s not a major aspect of the plot.

There’s a marketing quote that describes The club Dumas as “a beach book for intellectuals” and there’s definitely some truth to that: Pérez-Reverte is far more knowledgable about his subjects than Dan Brown or Michael Crichton. That being said, it’s not a book that will only appeal to intellectuals. There’s a fast-paced plot involving forbidden knowledge, modern-day occultists, and secret conspiracies. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that Perez-Reverte manages to wrap everything up in a way that requires little to no suspension of disbelief. The strength of his writing is that everything, with one possible exception, is completely plausible. The reader’s willing suspension of disbelief is rarely, if ever, tested.

Readers with a background in any of the above subjects will be pleased to find a book that is packed to overflowing with literary references and in-jokes, ranging from the relatively straightforward (The three musketeers, Scaramouche) to the virtually unknown to those outside the world of bibliophiles (Hypnerotomachia polyphili).

I love The club Dumas because it really demonstrates that people who love books, regardless of whether they love “literary” fiction or “light” adventure stories, love them because they are entertaining. Whether they are entertaining because they are thought provoking, entertaining because they are thrilling, or entertaining because they are sexy is irrelevent.

It’s also good for convincing people that old books are not really the secret goldmine that people seem to think they are.

Strengths

Bibliophiles will love Pérez-Reverte’s attention to detail when it comes to the rare books industry and the issues therein

So many literary allusions

It’s a great go-to book for fans of adventure fiction looking for new authors

Weaknesses

Corso is kind of an ass. I love him, but apparently some people hate him.

Recommendation

Anyone who owns a copy of ABC for book collectors needs to read this book. Similarly, fans of Dumas, Sabatini, or swashbucklers in general will find a lot to like about The club Dumas. Fans of Dan Brown, Clive Cussler, or Michael Crichton who are looking for an exciting adventure that’s a little different should also check this one out.

People who like historical fiction but want to read something a little different should enjoy this as well as the author’s other works.

The club Dumas is one of those books that I buy multiple copies of to hand out to people. I’m kind of an evangelist about this book and recommend it indiscriminately, partially because it’s much more unlikely that patrons will have a genre-based objection to the work.

Fans of The ninth gate should also check this book out, but be aware that the movie actually cuts the more important plotline of the book in favor of focusing on the De umbrarum regni … plotline.

Other books to check out:
Foucault’s pendulum / Umberto Eco

Captain Alatriste / Arturo Pérez-Reverte

The Master and Margarita / Mikhail Bulgakov

And some (very entertaining) nonfiction of interest:

The library at night / Alberto Manguel

ABC for book collectors / John Carter – Available free of charge from the League of Antiquarian Booksellers

 

 

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