A book lover's book Apr 2, 2007
This is a glorious book lover?s book. That rare thing: an intelligent, clever, adventure story, which shamelessly mixes all the familiar ingredients and then twists them so that the book is really about reading, about the joys of books, intertextuality and its dangers. If you?ve seen the awful filmed version: ?The Ninth Gate? don?t be put off.
Lucas Corso, the rare book world?s version of Chandler?s Marlowe, with a taste for gin and old books, complete with odd obsessions and regrets for a lost lover, is given two jobs: authenticate a hand written chapter from what appears to be the Mss of ?The Three Musketeers? and track down the only two other surviving copies of a book which is reputed to summon the devil. As the story unfolds Corso seems to have fallen into a rerun of "The Three Musketeers", as Milady and Rochefort try to steal the manuscript he carries. Events in his quest seem to be illustrated in the book. Although he?s convinced he?s being dragged into a story, he cannot be sure of its genre. An adventure serial? In which case he?s one of the Musketeers. But which one? And who is playing Richelieu?Or is it a detective story: in which case he might be Sherlock Holmes but then who is Moriarity? His confusion is increased when he encounters a beautiful young girl who gives her name as Irene Adler, whose address, on her passport is 22b Baker Street London, but who just may be a fallen angel. Or the devil in love. With Corso.
It would spoil the story to explain how all these strands come together at the end of the book, but they do. They shouldn?t. There should be an overload of literary allusions and recombination of familiar literary tropes swamping the narrative, but unlike the film of the book, the novel sustains its own coherence though many re reading.
The English translation reads well and the prose achieves a certain poetry in places. Corso's weariness, which echoes Marlowe's, is carefully evoked.
As well as the pleasures of a well written adventure story, told by an author who knows his literary theory and wears it lightly, one of the book?s other pleasures is that it sends its reader back to other books. (A book about book collectors removes any residual guilt about book buying.) Most people know the story of the three musketeers, but did you read it or see it? After The Dumas Club it becomes almost compulsory reading (or rereading). Do you remember who Irene Adler is? Corso will tell you, but have you read about Sherlock Holmes? dealing with ?The Woman?, if not then ?A Scandal in Bohemia? is next on the list. There are other pleasures here too. I?d never heard of Jacques Cazotte?s ?The Devil in Love? before, but having tracked it down (courtesy of Alibris) and read it, it?s not only an intriguing example of eighteenth century fiction, but the interaction of texts separated by over two hundred years create new readings of both.
And finally, if you?ve been unfortunate enough to see Polanski?s film, ?The Ninth Gate? don?t be put off. Although it?s supposed to be based on "The Dumas Club", the script writers hacked everything subtle out of the story. They even managed to remove the plot line that gives the book its name and mangle both Corso?s relationship with ?the Girl? and his search for ?The Nine Gates?.