Well, this was a welcome revisiting of a past favourite. I first read it aged about eight, in an abridged version with all the sex taken out (which makes some of the plot twists even less comprehensible), and came back to it as an undergraduate in a more complete version. It's full of exciting fights and journeys, to England, to the siege of La Rochelle, to the palaces of the King and Queen and the Cardinal, and D'Artagnan, our hero, and the three musketeers of the title are all well enough delineated, cardboard with some decent background colour.
— Athos ! Porthos ! Aramis !
Les deux mousquetaires avec lesquels nous avons déjà fait connaissance et qui répondaient aux deux derniers de ces trois noms, quittèrent aussitôt les groupes dont ils faisaient partie et s’avancèrent vers le cabinet, dont la porte se referma derrière eux dès qu’ils en eurent franchi le seuil. Leur contenance, bien qu’elle ne fût pas tout-à-fait tranquille, excita cependant, par son laisser-aller à la fois plein de dignité et de soumission, l’admiration de d’Artagnan, qui voyait dans ces hommes des demi-dieux, et dans leur chef un Jupiter olympien armé de toutes ses foudres.
“Athos! Porthos! Aramis!”
The two musketeers whose acquaintance we have already made, and who answered to the last two of these three names, immediately left the groups they were part of and advanced towards the office, the door of which closed behind them the moment they not entirely calm, still aroused d’Artagnan’s admiration by its casualness, which was at once full of dignity and of submission. He saw these men as demigods and their chief as an Olympian Jupiter armed with all his thunderbolts.
The big flaw is in the background and fate of Milady de Winter, the chief villainess. Aged only 22, she has already married Athos and (as far as he knows) been killed by him in retribution of dishonour, and yet also managed to marry de Winter's brother and become a trusted agent of the Cardinal despite her criminal record. It's a bit reminiscent of Patrick Ward in the Bloody Sunday Report. On top of this, the poor woman is subjected to summary execution by three men who she has wronged (two of whom have already tried to kill her), a deadly act given legitimacy by Porthos and Aramis, with the plausible deniability of actually beheading her in Belgium rather than France. I mean, she's not a nice person - the attempted poisoning of our heroes is a nasty thing to do - but one cannot really feel that she has been given justice. (I do like the transgender theory.)
And D'Artagnan's love life is barely coherent. He spent most of the book longing for Constance Bonacieux, who he has met about twice. He manages to deceive Milady into thinking he is the Comte des Wardes (how can she possibly make this mistake?) and his only really successful liaison with with Milady's maid Kitty, where they obviously have raucously glorious sex, even though he is using her for access to her boss (and she knows this deep down). It's a bit unpleasant to be honest, but also not all that convincing.
Still, the book really does succeed in evoking a complex political society in which young men thrash about violently and the real power-brokers try to shape their impulses to political ends. It has its internal inconsistencies but in the end it is generally great fun. You can get it here.
I think I've seen two versions of it on film - the 1973 one with Spike Milligan as Bonacieux
and the 1993 one with Tim Curry as the Cardinal.
This was the top book on my shelves that I had not already reviewed online. Next up is A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.