Monday, January 21, 2008

The Three Musketeers

The first thing that jumps out about The Three Musketeers is how fun and sunny it is. I guess I start most classic books with the prejudice that I'm in for a serious undertaking. Why I picked The Three Musketeers I don't really know, except that it was just published in an attractive new edition translated by Richard Pevear (more on him in a second) and that never having read anything by Alexandre Dumas, I might as well roll the dice.

Then it starts and immediately I was immersed, as entertained by the book as any escapist bestseller or beach read. This is a book about young men who fight, gamble and chase skirts (long frilly skirts with lace and jewels, but skirts). Basically, a young man who hasn't hit twenty leaves the provinces for Paris, hoping for military fame. He falls in with the Three Musketeers, who are in their late 20s and early 30s. Originally the musketeers and D'Artagnan plan to kill each other, until the musketeers are impressed by his bravado and decide to adopt him as a protege.

Then it's 600 pages of dueling, chasing and scheming. There are villains and royals and young men who can't decide whether they want to pork the pretty, innocent servant or the polished, beautiful royal. Villains get stabbed, good guys spend time in jail, butlers save the day and everyone celebrates by getting drunk and rebelling against authority.

It's been a long time since I've read a book that has so much pure fun. The translator, Richard Pevear, turns out one great edition after another. I thought I didn't like Russian literature until I read a translation of The Brothers Karamazov that he and his wife published. They could make a cereal box label seem dramatic and exciting.

I decided that in 2008 I'm only going to read books that were written before I was born. I read too much middle-of-the-road junk. Books by new young writers that receive strong reviews but are usually just pleasant or minor. Plus, I have a whole shelf of books with titles like America Betrayed! Bush, Cheney, Iraq, Evangelical Christians and the Beshitting of the Constitution. (I made that up, but the real titles are pretty close.) It seemed time to pursue some new interests.

Whenever someone tells me that I need to read Harry Potter, I tell them that I'm sure he's fine but that I don't want to invest myself in thousands of pages when there are a lot of great books I haven't read. Maybe this should apply to new books by David Mitchell and Richard Ford too. At least in 2008.

I haven't read any Harry Potter, but I'm pretty sure that The Three Musketeers is more fun.


Crunk Raconteur said...

"I haven't read any Harry Potter, but I'm pretty sure that The Three Musketeers is more fun."

As it happens, I've read both, and they are both quite a lot of fun.

flop said...

I didn't read this review because I've been saving the muzzle-loading triad for a future read.

Also, I wanted to snicker and say: "Heh. You said 'Dumas.'"

CrimeNotes said...

Horrible last line to this post. I re-read it and though, "Yeah, I should be claiming a preference over something that I've never even read." I hate that I used Harry Potter for a straw man against this book. The conclusion of this post is lazy and unnecessary. It just kind of grew out of my explanation for why I don't read Harry Potter (or a lot of other books that may be very good) and sometimes it's hard to end these posts tying everything together. I would have gone back and re-written it, but then decided fuck it, I should let lazy, poorly reasoned statements stay here alongside the posts I actually like, and if someone calls me out on it, all the better.

Notwithstanding -- "Three Musketeers" is still great fun. My apologies to Harry Potter.

JHC said...

This struck a chord with me. I started 2007 by reading the first book of the Harry Potter series - Harry Potter and the Boomstick of Persimmon (no idea what it's actually called). I sensed it was not meant to be when immediately upon entering the children's fiction area I received numerous suspicious glances from the librarians (so much so that I removed my hands from my pockets and exited stage right). After reading it, I knew my instincts had not betrayed me. I felt foolish - not for taking time to read the book (which I found to be completely and utterly bland, like eating a loaf of bread with no butter or sweetened accoutrements), but for kowtowing (not to be confused with PaiGowing - which is awesome!) to popular culture and their need to tag and bag me. I don't begrudge the legions of intelligent and savvy adults who love the books (so long as they don't try to tell me that I have to give them another chance, as though 700 pages of a disfigured orphan speaking gibberish wasn't enough of a sample size); they just weren't my bag.

As a result of The Harry Potter Experience I spent the rest of my year reading classic books and it was immeasurably rewarding. If you began this quest on your own, well played, but if someone suggested it to you, you should give them $5.

Keep the reviews coming as this one has inspired me to read The Three Musketeers .

CrimeNotes said...

I bounced around a few books before deciding on "Bleak House." Will update once I finish all 1,000 pages.

"Three Musketeers" was tough to put down.

Thanks very much for the comment.

JHC said...

I suppose I should read The Brothers Karamazov as well.
I'm still trying to get through A Confederacy of Dunces. Someone told me my writing reminds them of Toole and I'm trying to decide if I like the comparison or not.

crimenotes said...

I think I ripped through that book in about 96 hours. Loved it. I don't remember Toole's style well enough to have an opinion, although I'd take it as a compliment. In response to certain posts, particularly the great "I'm on Fire" series, I've thought of David Sedaris as an alpha-male heterosexual. (That's also meant as a compliment.)