Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Black Tulip, by Alexandre Dumas

It’s been a while since I read a Dumas novel. I forgot how much fun they could be.

Dumas writes in what seems like a mad, improvisatory sprint, his literary landscapes sprouting flowers and gambolling characters as he proceeds apace.

Nor when adding ingredients to his exotic fictions does he hold back on the spices. In this novel, Dumas shows his fondness for fascinating little digressions. We learn about history, politics, art, psychology, and of course, the art of love.

Of all the ‘classic’ novelists I’ve read, Dumas is one of those who comes closest to writing the trashy, popular novel. He perhaps saves himself by freely admitting within his actual novels that they are transparently plotted.

Dumas appears to be saying that plots don’t matter, but character and psychological development do.

(In The Black Tulip he several times intrudes as narrator to comment on the obvious nature of his plot.)

Dumas took a real historical even, a political assassination, as a point of departure for The Black Tulip. Reading the opening chapters I wondered when this complex historical data would fade away and some compelling, central characters emerge.

The Black Tulip it turns out is a romantic tale built around a young man’s passion for cultivating tulips.

Dumas’s genius is to make such a novel seem like such an easy feat to accomplish. The novelist weaves such a huge array of material into a mere two hundred pages.

I was one hundred and fifty or so pages in when I started to sense the novel was drawing to a resolution and I felt a pang.

I was enjoying Dumas’s wizardry so much that I didn’t want it to end.

Fans of Dumas will find this a marvellous read that ends too soon.

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