The Club Dumas

Posted by : atcampbell | On : July 3, 2001

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-RĂ©verte

This book and discussion were a bit unusual for us. The Club Dumas was originally written in Spanish, and it was published as a mainstream novel. The plot involves a rare book scout named Lucas Corso who is looking for several manuscripts by Alexandre Dumas and one supposedly authored by the devil. The Club Dumas had recently been filmed as The Ninth Gate, directed by Roman Polanski and starring Johnny Depp and Frank Langella. We kicked off our coverage of this book with a DVD viewing party Lori and I held at our house on the Sunday before the meeting. Ten people and two dogs showed up to watch the film, and we faithfully agreed not to talk about the book or movie until the regular meeting on Tuesday. We had dinner after the movie at Don Pablo’s.

When we held the book discussion at Adventures in Crime & Space, fourteen people showed up. Ten people at the meeting had finished the book, and twelve had seen the movie. Only one person had read other books by the author.

We liked a lot about this literary mystery. The details of rare book dealing were fascinating. We learned a lot about Dumas and his work. We appreciated how elements of The Three Musketeers were worked into the plot of The Club Dumas. We liked the author’s clever wordplay, which was impressive in a translated book. One member of our group laughed out loud at a spectacularly unsuccessful sex scene. Corso’s thinking of himself as a character in a book reminded us of the metafiction of Italo Calvino.

There were a few problems. A couple of people complained about the occasional awkward narrative dumps. Most of us felt that the diverse plot elements did not tie together well at the end, leaving too many red herrings. One person was so disappointed by the ending that she threw the book across the room. (This person has had the same reaction to several Reading Group books lately, so the walls at her place must be taking a beating.)

We discussed The Ninth Gate near the end of the meeting. We thought that that the movie omitted a lot of the red herrings, which produced a much leaner plot. Necessarily it omitted some of the details about rare book dealing that we’d enjoyed so much in the book. We felt that Corso was much better looking in the movie than the book, and the film had a lot more flying kung fu.

Overall we liked both The Club Dumas and The Ninth Gate. We felt that the movie probably told a more successful story than the book. There were so many wonderful elements unique to the book that we’d recommend it to anyone interested in rare books, Dumas, or occult thrillers.

After the discussion most of us headed over to Threadgill’s, where we had a nice dinner.

–A. T. Campbell, III