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Epic storytelling

September 23, 2007 |  9:53 am

Cavalier To the despair of many trees, there are plenty of big books arriving this fall, including Ken Follett’s "World Without End," the followup to his 1989 bestseller "The Pillars of the Earth." It is a whompstomper of a book, measuring in at 988 pages and returning readers to the same medieval cathedral-building period of the previous book. Aside from Follett (and that recent novel about a boy-wizard, what’s his name?), many of the fat books now publishing come from long-since-departed authors. Among these, Ecco and Viking are presenting dueling translations of Tolstoy’s "War and Peace" while Overlook’s publication of John Cowper Powys’ massive Arthurian epic, "Porius," coincides with that publisher’s publication of "Descents of Memory," Morine Krissdóttir’s biography of the enigmatic novelist.

The one book, however, that deserves the most attention here is "The Last Cavalier," a forgotten novel by Alexander Dumas discovered by Dumas scholar Claude Schopp at the Bibliotheque National in Paris. Written as a newspaper serial by the ailing Dumas, the story was interrupted by Dumas’ death in 1870.

Schopp collected and edited the serial into a novel that appeared in France in 2005; in the United States, it is now being published (in a translation by Lauren Yoder) by Pegasus Press, a small New York-based publisher that is quickly turning into a force to be reckoned with--check out their website.

The story follows the life of Count Hector de Sainte Hermine, imprisoned by Napoleon Bonaparte for his royalist allegiance. Unfinished as it is, this novel isn’t a mere "Edwin Drood": The last Dickens manuscript barely establishes scenes, characters and motivations before it cruelly stops, leaving us without any sense of where Dickens might have taken it. "The Last Cavalier" amounts to more than 700 pages of incident and adventure, giving us a rich taste of the melodrama that stirred readers of Le Moniteur universel each morning as they looked for the next daily installment. Reviews have been unanimous in praising "The Last Cavalier": The novel is a reminder that readers are always willing to make time for epic storytelling when the narrative is in the hands of a master. Pegasus Books has done a real service to world literature by giving us an English translation of this once-forgotten work.

Nick Owchar