Monday, February 23, 2009

Le Fin de Scaramouche

Sometimes life just rolls merrily along, and other times it's frickin' hard. Right now, for me, it's hard. I'm still struggling with this damn immunology class; four weeks to go, and I have so much to do. And on top of that, there's going to be layoffs at work, as there will be in a lot of workplaces this year, I suppose. So everyone at work is freaking out, and consequently not getting much work done. Hmmm, seems like there's a business lesson there somewhere. Of course, if I did get laid off there would be lots more time for blogging the canon...but then again, there would be less money for fine whiskey to wash down the canon chunks with. I'd have to switch to Old Grand Dad, which actually isn't a bad whiskey at all. But I digress...

So here I am whining and bitching about how hard life is while I sit here in my comfortable abode, typing on my awesome mac laptop, and sipping on some fine Guatemalan rum; meanwhile other people have way more troubles than I do. Like, for instance, Andre-Louis Moreau, the hero of "Scaramouche", who had to go on the lam from the law for murder and inciting riots. He flees to Paris, where he takes a job at a fencing school. Naturally, he becomes quite good at fencing, and eventually takes over the school when the headmaster is killed in the opening salvos of the French Revolution. So now we have all the ingredients here for a rollicking good story...sword fighting! Revolution! Vengeance! WOOHOO! And yes, the story basically comes down to all that. I could go on and describe all the plot details, but I'm going to refrain, for the simple reason that this book is mostly plot. If I walked you through the plot and said what happens, there'd be no reason for you ever to read this book. There aren't any big themes, or intellectual ideas, or really deep thoughts of any kind at work here. This book is really just an action novel...a damn good one, but it's just not really any deeper than that. Not that there's anything wrong with that...the swords come out, and the revolutionary mobs draw close, and there are opportunities for vengeance, and you just wanna read the next chapter to see what happens next. But it's a plot-driven vehicle, much like a Hollywood action blockbuster.

However, there was one downside to the plot, and I can't figure out if this is due to my having seen too many movies which has made me able to predict this kind of thing, or if it would have also been obvious in the 1920s when this was published. The downside is that there are two big plot twists in the novel, having to do with the identity of Andre-Louis' parents (he's a bastard child, raised by his Godfather, who he always assumed was his real father), and I could totally see both of these twists coming for a long time ahead, which naturally made them a lot less fun than they otherwise would have been. Plot twists are best when they really do twist, but these were fairly predictable. It was fun to see how they would turn out, but they weren't really surprises. No, a real surprise would have been if Andre-Louis was suddenly teleported ahead in time and forced to take an immunology class. Would he have used his wit and cunning to pass the course with flying colors, or would he have become rapidly exasperated by the pressures of time and work, forcing him to resort to pulling out his sword and threatening to run the instructor through before leaping out the nearest window and fighting his way through oncoming traffic, resulting in a grade of "incomplete"? Hmmm, now THAT would be a plot twist.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Book #29 - Scaramouche (Rafael Sabatini)

If I were a professional blogger I'd blog like 20 books a week, finish my list in a couple of months, and be dead of liver failure from the liquid "inspiration". Fortunately, or perhaps not, I'm doing this blog as a hobby, and a long-term project, so my reading and alcohol consumption will remain in moderation...well, mostly anyway. Things in my real life happen (as opposed to my reading life) which will sometimes draw me away from my reading schedule, and indeed this has happened lately. And what, Dear God, could have possibly drawn me away from the classics of world literature? After all, I could die any day, so I need to hurry up and read these books! Answer: the immune system. No, I'm not sick or dying or anything. Instead, for my work, I'm taking a class on immunology on my off-work hours. I had thought that hey, I know biology pretty well, since I'm a biologist, so how much work could a class on the immune system be? Well, a lot, as it turns out. I won't go into the gory details, but take it from me there's a hell of a lot going on with the immune system...more, in fact, than either you or I want to know. Anyway, the damn class is killing me, and it runs through March 22, so my canon blogging may be sorely limited between now and then, as I try to remember the differences between Th1 and Th2 cells, and what cytokine activates what type of cell, etc.

Of course, if I were Andre-Louis Moreau, the hero of "Scaramouche", I'd think of some clever disguise and have someone else take the class for me. Or perhaps threaten the professor with a sword, or snow him with my awesome oratory. I'd never heard of "Scaramouche" or had any knowledge of it when I put it on the list...I think I found it on some "greatest books" list and put it on when it was described as one of the greatest romances ever. I thought "Cool, a love story from the Renaissance". Well, nope. It was, to my surprise, written in English in 1921. It's a swashbuckler novel, although I haven't gotten to the deep sword-play parts yet. I'm actually only about 1/2 way through, due to the aforementioned immune system woes. The main character, Andre-Louis Moreau, is a lawyer in the provinces of France, before the French Revolution. As described in the first two lines of the book (which I love),
He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony.
He becomes incensed when a local aristocrat, M. de La Tour d'Azyr, kills a friend of his, a friend who's in the priesthood, over a trivial dispute. And it doesn't help that the aristocrat is also engaged to his cousin, who Andre-Louis secretly loves. He vows to take down the aristocrat, and his kind, by adopting the oratory of the impending revolution, even though he doesn't really believe a word of it. Nonetheless, his stirring speeches rouse the rabble against the aristocrats. Complications ensue, and he's forced to flee. Fortunately, his skill, luck, and cunning land him in a traveling theatrical troupe. He soon becomes the main writer and plays a stock character called Scaramouche. The theatrical company begins to play larger and larger venues due to Andre-Louis's writing, and eventually make it to Nantes. It is here that the aristocrat, M. de La Tour d'Azyr, appears in the audience. He's still engaged to Andre-Louis's beloved cousin, but he also has a liason with the female actress in the troupe, who Andre-Louis was going to marry. So, to take revenge, during the play one night when M. de La Tour d'Azyr is present, Andre-Louis makes an unexpected monologue condemning aristocrats, and the crowd is whipped into a frenzy. Andre-Louis ends up shooting a man, though, and has to flee for his life.

This is a fun book, and a quick read if you're not having attention span problems due to constantly thinking about the baroque architecture of the immune system. Lots of action and excitement. But it's not a real "deep" novel. It is what it is...good reading entertainment, but I'm not sure if I would have put it on a "greatest books" list. Although, as I said, I'm only halfway through so far, so maybe this thing will turn into "War and Peace" during the second half. And of course, I'll be sure to let you know. Or I can discuss the fine points of immunoglobulin gene recombination. Nah, screw that, the former goes much better with a glass of fine whiskey.