The Club Dumas  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Club Dumas is a 1993 novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. The book is set in a world of antiquarian booksellers echoing his previous work, The Flanders Panel. Roman Polanski's film The Ninth Gate was adapted from Pérez-Reverte's novel, simplifying some aspects of the plot and removing the Dumas connection entirely.

The story follows the adventures of a book dealer, Lucas Corso, who is hired to authenticate a rare manuscript by Alexandre Dumas, père. Corso's investigation leads him to seek out two copies of a rare book known as De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis (The Book of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows). Along the way, Corso encounters a host of intriguing characters on his journey of investigation, including devil worshippers, obsessed bibliophiles and a hypnotically enticing femme fatale. Corso's travels take him to Madrid (Spain), Sintra (Portugal), Paris (France) and Toledo (Spain).

The book is full of details that range from the working habits of Alexandre Dumas to how one might go about forging a 17th-century text, as well as insight into demonology, and the nature of social constructionism.

Contents

Plot summary

A man commits suicide in a mysterious opening, which is presented without any context. This man is later revealed to be Enrique Taillefer, a publisher of cookbooks and a Dumas enthusiast.

The reader is introduced to Lucas Corso, a mercenary book-dealer who specializes in acquiring rare and valuable editions for anonymous buyers and other book dealers. Corso is a master at manipulation, and the narrator describes his every mannerism. Corso visits the narrator, Boris Balkan, to get his opinion on the authenticity of a manuscript he has acquired, apparently a chapter of The Three Musketeers called The Anjou Wine.

Corso then meets with the owner of the manuscript, his occasional friend and fellow bibliophile, Flavio La Ponte. La Ponte was given the manuscript by its previous owner, Enrique Taillefer, immediately previous to his suicide. Corso and La Ponte drink in their favorite bar, and mention eccentric book-collector Varo Borja.

In Madrid, Corso visits the beautiful widow of Taillefer, Liana Taillefer, who is intelligent and manipulative. She seems curious about The Anjou Wine and skeptical that Corso's possession of the manuscript is legitimate. Liana shows Corso her late husband's books and the novel he was working on, a trite and poorly-written adventure called The Dead Man's Hand. Before leaving, Corso speculates privately that she was having an affair prior to her husband's death. On his way out, Corso sees a sinister man with a scar driving a Jaguar.

Corso spends a night alone, fantasizing about his ancestor, who fought on the losing side of the Battle of Waterloo. He reminisces about an ex-lover, Nikon, who left him long ago.

Corso goes to Toledo to visit the very successful Varo Borja, who shows him a very rare book called The Book of the Nine Doors: one of three in existence, it is a book which contains clues and a formula for summoning the devil. The author, Aristide Torchia, printed it in 1666 and was subsequently burned at the stake, along with all the copies of the book, by the Inquisition. Although Borja's book is one of only three remaining copies in existence, Borja nevertheless believes there is only one real copy, with his copy being a very exact forgery. After showing him his vast collection of occult books, Borja then gives Corso an odd but very lucrative assignment: find the other two copies of The Book of the Nine Doors, and compare them. All Corso's expenses will be paid, and Corso is to acquire the copy he determines to be the original — no matter what the cost, and by any means necessary.

Corso does a bit of research, and the reader is treated to a history of Dumas' private life, as well as the sinister character Rochefort from The Three Musketeers, whom Corso compares to the man with the scar. Corso visits Balkan again, this time in a cafe where Balkan is giving a lecture, and they discuss the villains in The Three Musketeers, including Rochefort, Milady, and Richelieu. Corso meets La Ponte again, and in a bit of self-reference, they playfully pretend they are characters in a mystery novel.

Lucas Corso visits the "Ceniza brothers", experts in book restoration and probable world-class book forgers, and they discuss methods of book forgery. Liana Taillefer visits Corso in his hotel room and attempts to seduce him in return for "The Anjou Wine;" however, he sleeps with her and sends her on her way without giving her the manuscript, earning him an enemy for the rest of the story.

Corso takes a train to Lisbon and meets a young woman in her twenties with striking green eyes, who was also at the café listening to Balkan's lecture. A backpacker, she mysteriously identifies herself as "Irene Adler", the name of an antagonist in the Sherlock Holmes stories. They part in Lisbon as Corso visits the owner of a second copy of The Book of Nine Doors, Victor Fargas. Fargas is an aged and obsessive book collector who is the last of a prominent Sintra family. Now he lives alone in an empty mansion with no furniture, selling what is left of his famous library of rare antique books to pay for food and property taxes.

Corso compares the two copies of The Book of Nine Doors and notices slight differences in a few of the illustrations. (Pérez-Reverte includes one set of all nine illustrations in the book.) While most plates are signed by the Torchia, on some of the variants the signature of the picture's author is a second name, "L.F." On his way back to the village from Fargas' place, the man with the scar, whom Corso now refers to simply as "Rochefort", makes an appearance. After a brief appearance of "the girl" (formerly known as Irene Adler), Corso meets a corrupt policeman he knows named Amilcar Pinto to arrange a burglary of Fargas' home in order to acquire the book. That night the girl calls Corso in his hotel with news that Fargas is dead. They visit Fargas' home, find The Book of Nine Doors has been burnt in the fireplace, and also find a drowned Fargas in his own fountain. Corso and the girl then leave for Paris, the location of the third copy of the book.

In Paris Corso meets with Achille Replinger, an antique book seller, who verifies the "The Anjou Wine" manuscript to be genuine and discourses on the history of Dumas' writing habits. The girl and Corso talk, and the girl brings up the devil as Corso thinks about Nikon. As they walk they see La Ponte with Liana Taillefer. Corso returns to his hotel and meets with a concierge he knows, Gruber, asking him to find the hotel where Liana is staying. That night the girl visits Corso in his room and they talk about Lucifer and the war of heaven — at one point she implies she is actually a witness to the events of the fall, potentially a fallen angel herself.

The next day Corso visits Baroness Frida Ungern, a widow who controls the Ungern Foundation, which in turn owns the largest library on the occult in Europe, including the last copy of The Book of Nine Doors. Baroness Ungern and Corso share a flirtation as they discuss the books on the occult she has written as well as the personal history of Torchia. The girl calls Corso while he is in the library and alerts him to the presence of Rochefort outside. Baroness Ungern translates the captions of all the illustrations in The Book of Nine Doors for Corso and the reader, and Corso notes the differences in this third set of plates. Later Corso drinks in a restaurant and analyses the difference in the three sets of illustrations, discovering only the mismatched plates are the ones signed "L.F." On the way back to his hotel he is assaulted by Rochefort, who is successfully repelled by the girl. Corso takes the girl back to the hotel and they spend the night together.

By morning Gruber has located Liana Taillefer and his friend La Ponte, and Corso goes to their hotel and assaults La Ponte just before Rochefort shows up and knocks Corso unconscious. Corso awakes to find Borja's copy of the book missing along with The Anjou Wine, and La Ponte realizing he has been used by Liana Taillefer for that manuscript. Soon afterwards, they find Baroness Ungern has been killed in a fire at her library.

By assuming Liana is playing out her part as Milady and Rochefort as her henchman, Corso deduces Liana has escaped to Meung, the setting for The Three Musketeers. Corso, La Ponte, and the girl confront Liana, who confirms she is indeed emulating Milady, immediately before Rochefort shows up and holds them at gunpoint. The thus-far unseen Richelieu-equivalent summons Rochefort via phone, and Corso is taken to the castle where The Three Musketeers was set.

Richelieu's identity is revealed, and he describes the motives of Liana, Rochefort, and Liana's late husband Enrique. He then introduces Corso to The Club Dumas of the title, a literary social group for very wealthy Dumas enthusiasts, who are all at the castle for an annual banquet. However, much to Corso's chagrin, Richelieu seems confused when confronted with the plot surrounding The Book of Nine Doors- the two plots are actually completely unrelated. Although invited to stay, Corso leaves the party confused.

Corso, the girl, and La Ponte drive back to Spain, where Corso knows he must confront Borja. On a hilltop overlooking Borja's mansion, the girl reveals to Corso her true identity, as a fallen angel who rebelled against God and has wandered the Earth ever since. Corso accepts this and his growing attachment to her.

Corso arrives at Borja's home, realizing that his employer is the perpetrator behind the murders and arsons. Borja has apparently gone completely insane, having dismantled a great deal of his occult book collection in the name of "research", and so that none might might follow after him, in an effort to summon the devil and "gain knowledge." Borja explains his methodology and the symbolism in the ritual before he executes it. The ritual goes awry, as one of the prints needed to properly complete it is a forgery of the Ceniza Brothers. Borja meets an intensely painful demise, instead of Satan himself.

After his showdown with Borja, Corso returns to the girl and it is implied they continue their relationship.

Literary references

The Club Dumas is a bibliophile's fantasy. Almost every page includes a literary reference, or a description of a rare edition of a famous work. Lucas Corso also comes across a number of books on the occult, most of which are inventions by Pérez-Reverte. The fictional works, The Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows and Delomalanicon have histories intertwined with many real authors and other historical figures.

Real books

  • The works Alexandre Dumas, père, from whom the book derives its title, influence nearly every element of the plot. The books mentioned are:
    • The Three Musketeers. Edition by Miguel Guijarro in four volumes, with engravings by Ortega.
    • The Countess de Charny. Edition by Vicente Blasco Ibanez, in eight volumes, part of the "Illustrated Novel" collection.
    • The Two Dianas. Edition in three volumes.
    • The Count of Monte Cristo. Edition by Juan Ros in four volumes, with engravings by A. Gil.
    • The Forty-Five.
    • The Queen's Necklace.
    • The Companions of Jehu.
    • From Madrid to Cadiz.
    • Queen Margot.
    • Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge. Apparently originally titled The Knight of Rougeville.
  • Also mentioned are works by Dumas' ghostwriter Auguste Maquet, especially Le Bonhomme Buvat or the Conspiracy of Cellamare, and Le Siècle, the magazine in which The Three Musketeers originally appeared between March and July 1844.

Other works mentioned are:

Fictional books

Occultist works published by Aristide Torchia in Venice:

  • The Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Shadows. Venice, 1666. The book Corso is looking for, which contains reprints of illustrations from the Delomelanicon.
  • Key to Captive Thoughts, 1653.
  • A Curious Explanation of Mysteries and Hieroglyphs.
  • The Three Books of the Art, 1658.
  • Nicholas Tamisso, The Secrets of Wisdom, 1650.
  • Bernard Trevisan, The Lost Word, 1661. A fictional edition of an actual 14th century alchemy treatise.

Other occultist writings:

  • Asclemandres. A book mentioning the existence of the Delomalanicon
  • Delomelanicon, or Invocation of Darkness. A long-destroyed book containing a formula for summoning the devil, written by Lucifer himself.
  • De origine, moribus et rebus gestis Satanae.
  • Dissertazioni sopra le apparizioni de' spiriti e diavoli.
  • Leonardo Fioravanti, Compendi dei secreti, 1571.
  • Restructor omnium rerum.

Non-fiction books written by Baroness Ungern:

  • Isis, the Naked Virgin.
  • The Devil, History and Legend.

Other fictional works mentioned are:

  • Books by Boris Balkan:
    • Lupin.
    • Raffles.
    • Rocambole.
    • Holmes.
    • Dumas: the Shadow of a Giant.
  • Mateu, Universal Bibliography. A 1929 rare books guide used by Corso and his rivals.
  • Julio Ollero, Dictionary of Rare and Improbable Books.
  • Books by Enrique Taillefer:
    • The Thousand Best Desserts of La Mancha. A cooking book.
    • The Secrets of Barbecue. A cooking book.
    • The Dead Man's Hand, or Anne of Austria's Page.. Taillefer's unpublished novel, cribbed largely from Angeline de Gravaillac.
  • Amaury de Verona, Angeline de Gravaillac, or Unsullied Virtue, published in the 19th century in The Popular Illustrated Novel.
  • Books by an unnamed Nobel prize winning author:
    • I, Onan
    • In Search of Myself
    • Oui, C'est Moi.

Film adaptation

Roman Polanski's film The Ninth Gate was adapted from Pérez-Reverte's novel, simplifying some aspects of the plot and removing the Dumas connection entirely.

Awards

  • In 1998, The Club Dumas was nominated for the Anthony award for Best Novel, the Macavity award for Best Novel, and the World Fantasy award for Best Novel.





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