About this guide
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that
follow are intended to enhance your group's reading and discussion
of Arturo Pérez-Reverte's novel, The Club Dumas.
We hope they will enrich your understanding of this dazzling intellectual
Rare-book sleuth Lucas Corso is hired to authenticate a manuscript
chapter from Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, and
to find the original copy of a manual for summoning the devil.
These assignments lead him into dangerous waters as he becomes
the target of devil worshipers, unscrupulous bibliophiles, and
a cast of characters that seems to come straight out of Dumas's
masterpiece, complete with a femme fatale and her sinister henchman.
Aided by an enigmatic young beauty named for Sherlock Holmes's
nemesis, Corso follows the violent trail of Dumas and the devil
across Europe as he begins to uncover the dark and horrifying
secret linking the two books. Arturo Pérez-Reverte has
woven a brilliant intertextual puzzler, at once sophisticated
and playful, in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Italo Calvino.
- "My name is Boris Balkan, and I once translated The
Charterhouse of Parma. Apart from that, I've edited a few
books on the nineteenth century popular novel, my reviews and
articles appear in supplements and journals throughout Europe,
and I organize summer school courses on contemporary writers"
[p. 5]. What is unusual about the way Balkan introduces himself?
Does his description of himself reflect his actions in the novel?
- Corso is frequently described as resembling a wolf or a rabbit.
Is either description an accurate depiction of his personality?
Does Corso's character undergo a transformation by the end of
the novel? And if so, what causes it?
- Is Balkan a reliable narrator? How do you account for his
detailed knowledge of Corso's activities? Why did Arturo Pérez-Reverte
choose to use Balkan as a narrator? Is Corso also a narrator
of the story? Who is in control of the narrative?
- When Corso visits Varo Borja at the beginning of the novel
he hears a "jarring sound, warning him. . . . He was no
longer sure he wanted the job" [p. 51]. Why does Corso take
the job despite his reservations? How do his feelings about books
differ from Varo Borja's or Boris Balkan's?
- Corso immediately notices Liana Taillefer's resemblance to
Kim Novak, the actress who portrayed a beautiful witch in the
1958 film Bell, Book, and Candle. Does Corso use a literary
and cinematic lens to view the other women he encounters in the
book? How does he see Irene Adler?
- What do the rooms in which Liana Taillefer, Boris Balkan,
Corso, Varo Borja, and Victor Fargas live say about each of them?
Are the rooms in any way deceptive? With what settings do you
associate Irene Adler? What does the home address she gives say
- Balkan is very opinionated when it comes to the kind of writing
he deems worthwhile [see pages 5, 98, 313, and 322]. Do you think
Balkan would consider The Club Dumas a worthwhile piece
of literature? Why?
- The Club Dumas does not establish a precise time period.
What era do you imagine The Club Dumas to take place?
Do certain characters seem to exist in their own historical periods?
If so, how does this effect the way characters construct their
identities and how they perceive one another?
- What are the sources of evil in the novel? Is Pérez-Reverte's
interest in the presence of evil in modern history conveyed in
his depiction of Varo Borja's desire to raise the devil through
magic? Is Borja naive in believing that summoning the devil requires
- To what extent do the engravings in The Book of the Nine
Doors to the Kingdom of Darkness illustrate Corso's quest
for the truth about the two books he is trying to authenticate?
What do you think engraving number VII, of a king and a servant
playing chess, might represent in terms of Corso's adventure?
And how does engraving number IX, of a woman riding a seven-headed
dragon, illuminate Corso's discoveries?
- Who is Irene Adler? Do you accept her explanation of her
identity? How does the identity she constructs affect your understanding
of the opposition of God and the devil in the novel?
- Balkan tells Corso that "games are the only universally
serious activity" [p.314]. How does Balkan's attitude to
"the game" compare with that of Corso, Liana Taillefer,
and Irene Adler? Does anyone win the game? Has Corso's attitude
to the game changed by the end of the book?
- Boris Balkan argues that he never led Corso to believe that
there was a connection between "The Anjou Wine" and
The Nine Doors: "It was you who filled in the blanks
on your own, as if what happened were a novel based on trickery,
with Lucas Corso the reader too clever for his own good. Nobody
ever told you that things were actually as you thought. No, the
responsibility is entirely yours, my friend. The real villain
of the piece is your excessive intertextual reading and linking
of literary references" [p. 334]. Is Balkan right? To what
extent are Balkan and Corso responsible for the violence that
occurs in the story?
- Is the Club Dumas justified in its mission to protect the
reputation of Alexandre Dumas by withholding evidence about his
collaboration with his assistant Auguste Moquet? Why does Balkan
care so much about Dumas's reputation? Does Balkan's attitude
toward Dumas influence your opinion of Balkan?
- Corso and Balkan argue about whether children and young people
raised watching television have the "spiritual heritage"
they themselves received from books and old movies [p. 325].
Could The Club Dumas have been written about television
devotees? How would the characters and plot differ?
- Corso recalls Nikon telling him, "Films are for everyone,
collective, generous. . . . They're even better on TV: two can
watch and comment. But your books are selfish. Solitary. . .
. A person who is interested in books doesn't need other people
and that frightens me" [p. 210]. Is Corso a frightening
person because of his obsession with books? What about the other
characters who share a passion for books? Is it significant that
Irene Adler reads cheap paperbacks [p. 138]? Why doesn't Corso
want to join the Club Dumas party?
Suggestions for further reading
John Barth, Chimera; Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones;
A.S. Byatt, Possession; Italo Calvino, If on a Winter's
Night a Traveller and In the Castle of Crossed Destinies;
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote; Julio Cortazar, Hopscotch;
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Oxford Sherlock Holmes; Alexandre
Dumas, The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After; Umberto
Eco, Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose;
John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman, James Joyce,
Finnegans Wake; H. P. Lovecraft, The Best of H. P. Lovecraft;
Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of
Solitude; John Milton, Paradise Lost; Vladimir Nabokov,
Pale Fire; Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of
Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
Also by Arturo Pérez-Reverte:
The Flanders Panel (1994)
The Seville Communion (1998)