In the beginning of March I decided to finally battle one of those books I’d been intimidated but also longing to read for a long time, the beast that is The Count of Monte Cristo. I had intended to read one chapter a day, until I finished – which didn’t quite work out, I ended up having periods of reading furiously and other times when I was focusing on other books. In the end it took me nearly four months to read, but this time was less to do with the content than the format of the book – aka, big paperback was 1) heavy 2) burdensome to hold, especially since I have very small hands. If you can, I highly suggest looking for this book in parts (how nice it would’ve been!). But that’s enough talk on the physical aspects of the book.
The Count of Monte Cristo is probably the most epic revenge drama ever written. The theme of revenge is the core of the overarching storyline – although there are many side plots throughout, making the book as a whole wide-ranging. We meet many characters, each with their own background stories and range of society. We shift settings and times, seeing France change with the development of the structure of society itself; of the law, the social expectations, etc. Revenge as a theme is something I really enjoy in all sorts of stories, who wouldn’t? It’s such a satisfying feeling when someone who’s been wronged finally gets to re-pay those who wronged him, be that through creating havoc and misery or even through being happy himself. That’s sort of the point here too – it’s not like Edmons revenge is all black and white, not like all the “villains” go down and all the “heroes” live happy lives. For some characters, the lines are clearer than for others. Some choices were done from greed – a form of evil perhaps, others out of cowardice. Whether they are equally ‘bad’ or blameworthy is really up to the reader, as we see the Count pulling the threads that manipulate all these lives, finally revealing the entire masterpiece of so many years of work to achieve this one goal, what kept propelling him towards life – to keep on going.
As a story, this book as a whole as well as every side-plot and ‘minor’ plot or part of the grander story, is really only describable by “epic”. It’s a pleasure to read from the first page to the last, it’s never dull despite the length, and even when perspectives change – it doesn’t take long for the reader to make oneself comfortable in a new set of shoes. The characters are interesting and having been reading them for these past couple of months, they feel real to me. Not all ladies are angels, not all men are bad – one thing I really appreciated with any classic. That’s not to say it’s without some gender stereotypes but generally speaking it’s never enough to bother me. When it comes to racism, it’s – the Count has a slave called “Ali” that he’s brought over from some Arabian country if I remember correctly, and his behaviour towards him is definitely not unproblematic – it’s not so much that he does anything as he talks to him and about him, but Ali is a slave – meaning it’s not surprising the character of Monte Cristo behaves the way he does towards him although it doesn’t change the fact that it’s problematic. So, something to keep in mind when picking this book up.
I was really impressed with Dumas writing, both in the ways he set up the world and the characters – basically setting the stage for the revenge and the ultimate showdown, but also how the ending culminated and how all the stories wrapped up. There’s no grande finale, there’s just many lives each with their own endings, each with their own sorrows and joys. There are characters to love, characters to hate, some to admire, others to facepalm at. There’s so much drama though-out this book, so much intrigue and so many themes that I still feel like I haven’t fully explored. Not just in terms of the story – like having a character show up early in the book, not knowing he/she is important, only to later meet her/him again. But also, Dumas references a lot of other works of art, artists, literature, historical events, etc. The Penguin edition translated by Robin Buss (amazing!!!) which was the edition I read, was filled with so many notes but I only randomly read them – as I was more interested in focusing on the story, I didn’t want to interrupt my reading by going back and forth between the notes at the back and the story. But the next time I read this I will definitely read the notes, because I think there are so many layers to this story that I have yet to peel and that I would gain even more from a second, or even a third readthrough. That’s one of the reasons I gave this book a 5 star rating – it’s so epic and so intricate and so detail rich that I just know I will get something knew out of it every time I return to it. And return to it, I definitely will. It’s such an entertaining, fun, satisfying, exhilarating novel on its own – without the notes and all that too. Man, I just really liked this book.
I’m sorry. This isn’t a very cohesive review, it’s mostly just me talking about how great this book is, isn’t it? Oh well. All I can say is that this book is very long, 1243 pages in my edition, but there is a reason for the length. I mean there’s no filler content, no fluff in between the real story – it’s all necessary for the story, and yet it doesn’t lose out on quality throughout. So, what I’m saying is go read it especially if you like revenge and drama and backstabbing and rich people problems and adventure and all that.