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.


Kristin said...

Your description reminds me The Scarlet Pimpernel, another French Revolution novel one would think was written in the 19th century, but is actually an early 20th century English work. The plots are probably similar as well, though the Scarlet Pimpernel is English and rescues French aristocrats. It was of course made famous - in my mind at least - by Daffy Duck as "The Scarlet Pumpernickel."

Tina said...

Sounds a little similar to the books by Dumas that you've listed. Entertaining stories set in France of older times. A bit of duelling over fair ladies etc. I'm sure it's just healthy to mix in some lighter entertainment with the heavier works. Enjoy the rest of the book! :-)

Tor Hershman said...

CULTurally promoted "Great" literature & whiskey ALWAYS go together well ;-)

Stay on groovin' safari,

Lynda said...

Reading this one myself - discovered it in grade school and just re-discovered it clearing out bookcases. Happily I don't remember much of it so it feels all new!