Feb 1 2010

The Three Musketeers

Today, I finally finished Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 classic “The Three Musketeers” (in English). I bought a copy of this book about 18 years ago and made a number of failed forays into the first chapter or two. Recently, I picked-up a better copy (I’m partial to hardcovers) and committed myself to seeing what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t hard. In fact, I’m not sure why I had so much trouble starting the book in the first place. Like all good adventure books, the story soon is pulling you along and before you know it, it’s over. Well, not completely over… There are two follow-up books to the d’Artagnan Romances (e.g., Twenty Years After, The Vicomte de Bragelonne) and three further stories (e.g., Ten Years Later, Louise de la Valliere, The Man in the Iron Mask) but I have too much else on my list before I even think about embarking on those.

The book itself was a strange blend of familiar characters involved in unfamiliar circumstances. I guess this shouldn’t be surprising having seen innumerable adaptations in cartoons, television, movies, abridged children’s books, etc. Anyone who has read a version of the story in elementary school should revisit the book again. I was expecting it to end with a huge mêlée between the King’s Musketeers and the Cardinal’s Guards, but nothing like that ever manifested. Maybe in a later book? Instead, the story tacks back and forth between a number of villainous characters before settling on one and pursuing that storyline to the finish. As I was coming to the end I began to seriously doubt how the story-lines could ever be wrapped-up in the number of pages left. There is a large and confusing cast of characters, all addressed as M. or Mme., Count this, Countess that… It wasn’t as bad as “Crime and Punishment” where everyone has three names that could be used interchangeably as the narrator saw fit, but it still took some reprogramming every time I put the book down for more than a day at a time. Whining aside, the book was a good deal of fun.

For those unfamiliar with the story (how is that even possible?!), the book revolves around three mysterious Musketeers (who have changed their names to escape their respective pasts) and a young Gascon swordsman who travels to Paris wishing to  join the Musketeer ranks. The story mostly follows d’Artagnan’s adventures, friendships, and romances. In the process he crosses swords and wits with a number of villains ranging from the the Countess de Winter, Cardinal Richelieu, and the Man from Meung while professing his love, honor, and service to every lady he meets (married or not… such is the French way?). Despite a wide network of characters, plots, intrigues, and twists the story wraps-up satisfactorily (which is amazing). I will read it again should I ever find the time.

“You are young,” replied Athos; “and your bitter recollections have time to change themselves into sweet remembrances.”

4.5 out of 5


Sep 25 2009

The Awakening

Kate ChopinWhat the hell?! Why does every classic story I pick-up (in my current quest to broaden my literary foundations) have to do with suicide? The Japanese might have made an art form out of sepuku, but western literature isn’t far behind.

I just finished Kate Chopin‘s 1899 short novel “The Awakening”. Why did I choose this book at all? I don’t know. It wasn’t even on “my list”! It was something different I guess, different from what I usually read. Chopin is considered an early feminist. The book is written from a woman’s point of view (like I’m supposed to care about that?!). It has romance (I’m told I should read more romances, go figure). It deals with women’s issues in an unapologetic way, in some respects similar to Tess of the d’Urbervilles (written by a man, 8 years before). Though they deal with separate issues and themes, both books were considered scandalous for their brazen depictions of female sexuality, so I’m lumping them together. See how that works?! I’m the blogger, I say it works.

What did I think about the book? Ummm… I thought it was well-written. It kept my interest (wasn’t sure I was going to continue past the first few pages, at first). The author’s attention to detail gave engaging insights into the lives of affluent New Orleans at the end of the 19th century (seems pretty nice except for the whole hurricane thing).  I was particularly engrossed by the way the author carries the reader through Edna Pontellier’s (main character) evolving thoughts and opinions of her marriage, her children, her freedom (what there is of it), and her life. Her actions and choices do not need to be commended to be understood.

“Ah! si tu savais / Ce que tes yeux me disent—”

4 out of 5