By Ana Mendoza
MADRID -- Fifteen years after the publication of "El Club Dumas," (The Club Dumas), Spaniard Arturo Perez-Reverte said he would not change "a single line" of this novel which spawned a new genre, greatly expanded his readership and made him realize he could "live from literature."
"'El Club Dumas' is a piece of my life. It's the best book I could've written at that time and I put all my effort and hope into it; changing something would be denying all of that," Perez-Reverte told Efe in an interview coinciding with the release in bookstores of a commemorative edition of the novel.
The book, a homage to French writer Alexandre Dumas, one of Perez-Reverte's favorite authors, was a surprise worldwide bestseller, with 2.5 million books sold in 51 countries.
But at the time the work represented a "challenge" for the author, who wanted to show that "you could do more with Dumas than a Musketeers novel." His innovation was to combine "elements of the old European newspaper serial for a mass audience with the postmodern novel."
"Now, writing a novel of this type is playing with a market that already exists, but 15 years ago you ran the risk of not being read because there was no audience for these books," said Perez-Reverte, who has always criticized those who denigrate the novels of the 19th and early 20th centuries and only consider the literature "from Faulkner and Cortazar until now" to be valid.
"The band of idiots who were holding literature hostage had made readers desert and only heroes like (Spanish novelists) Juan Marse and Eduardo Mendoza maintained those subtle but still firm ties with literature that told you things," the writer said.
Made into a movie titled "The Ninth Gate" and directed by Roman Polanski, "El Club Dumas" made Perez-Reverte feel "at ease as a writer" for the first time.
"Up to that point I was an adventurer; I wasn't a part of the literary world, I had no aspirations in that area. But with this novel I realized that I could live from literature and that there was a readership base, in Spain and abroad, that already gave me a (level of) security."
"With 'El Club Dumas' I began to leave journalism behind," said the writer, who served as a war correspondent from 1973 to 1994.
The author of "La table de Flandes" (The Flanders Panel), "La carta esferica" (The Nautical Chart), and "La reina del sur" (The Queen of the South), Perez-Reverte said he does not normally re-read his books but that he has in the case of "El Club Dumas."
"The novel has held up very well," he said. "It's the ultimate pleasure read; I was terrified writing it."
"El Club Dumas" features as its protagonist Lucas Corso, a mercenary book dealer who has taken on two jobs: authenticating a rare manuscript by Alexandre Dumas and rounding up the extant copies of a strange 17th century manual for summoning the devil known as "The Book of Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows."
The work paved the way for a series of novels that make the book world their primary focus and combine elements of the detective, mystery and adventure genres.
ez-Reverte prudently avoided saying which authors may have been influenced by "El Club Dumas, saying only that those who "consider themselves heirs of the novel should say so themselves, and in fact there is one who has acknowledged as much: Matilde Asensi. I'm very grateful to her."
When asked which authors have inspired him, Perez-Reverte - a member of the Royal Spanish Academy since 2003 - responded with an anecdote, saying that when Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" was released he happened to be writing "a Knights Templar novel," of which he has "some 120 pages at home."
"That Eco novel made me happy because I realized that mine was not an individual and wrong-headed pursuit, but that intellectual heavyweights felt the same way I did about literature."
And when I read that Eco was working on a novel involving the Knights Templar ("Foucault's Pendulum), Perez-Reverte put his work aside and began writing "El Club Dumas."
But "Eco didn't influence 'El Club Dumas.' The world this novel reflects can't be improvised in six months, but rather it takes an entire lifetime to write it," he said. EFEClick here to go to Perez-Reverte's Official Website.