Saturday, July 21, 2007

Review: Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

Get it here.
A very entertaining romp - which starts slowly, and builds up to a great conclusion. I had expected a light, sword-play filled pot-boiler, and was quite surprised when the first few chapters seemed to suggest a philosophical novel, pondering the nature of political power.
This deeper aspect reappears at odd moments in the book, but its mostly romance, swords and intrigue after that. The hero of the novel is a kind of eighteenth century James Bond, capable of tossing off sarcastic jibes whilst duelling like a master, and turning a ragtag group of travelling players into the toast of the town in a few weeks.
And great fun it is too, especially with its great series of twists towards the end, when the pace really hots up.
The author seems to have only learned English rather late in life, and made it the sixth language that he spoke fluently, which makes we wonder if he based the supremely competent hero of this novel on himself.

This is read by Gordon Mackenzie, which means that every ounce of drama and tension is converted into pure audio gold. A real masterpiece and a delight. I would expect the he is the LibriVox reader that all male volunteers secretly wish that they sounded like. Speaking for myself, however, I am pleased that there are readers at the other end of the spectrum - if everyone sounded like Gordon I would never have dared to volunteer. Still, as Gordon reads in his recording of Walden, a man's reach should exceed his grasp.


gordmackenzie said...

Gah! Chris, you are FAR too kind!

I think we all have people that we wished we sounded more like, and I think too, that people have different tastes. Some listeners prefer one thing, others groove to something else.

I am, however, very glad indeed that you enjoyed Scaramouche.

It's quite a jump to go from "Ulysses" to Sabatini! I'm not sure anyone would claim that Scaramouche was a great piece of literature ... but it is good fun all the same.

Our hero, Moreau, who, as you point out, is almost supremely adept at everything he turns his hand to (not to mention being overly confident and immodest to boot), remains endearing to the reader by the fact that he is such a dunderhead when it comes to matters of love and human interaction. While on one hand Moreau seems to move from success to success, he is also forced to face his misconceptions, one after another. I don't think it is much of a spoiler to say that by the end of the book, Moreau's entire world is stood on its head ... which is, of course, why the revolution is such a fitting backdrop for the tale.

In some ways, I don't think Scaramouche is as satisfying a book as Sabatini's classic, "Captain Blood" ... but I believe this is because he's playing with the formula a bit here, with a specific goal in mind.

At any rate, thanks for listening!

ChrisHughes said...

Its great to jump from the challenge of Ulysses to the fun of Scaramouche. Kind of like sorbet after a lot of wholemeal bread.
I wondered if the baddie was going to cut off Moreau's hand, before declaring 'I am your father, Luke! - I mean, Andre-Louis!" Prosthetics not so good back then, I guess.
Still, I am sure Rafael (cool name or what?) was trying to make a deeper point with the "to know all is to forgive all" message. That the seeds of what we hate in others are in ourselves.
Argh! I've gone all deep and meaningful. Quick! My sword!!!