The Count of Monte Cristo
By: Alexandre Dumas
Format/Source: eBook; my copy
Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. Dumas’ epic tale of suffering and retribution, inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment, was a huge popular success when it was first serialised in the 1840s.
And here we are at what I call my obligatory mammoth read of the year, lol =P In all seriousness, I’ve been eyeing The Count of Monte Cristo for the longest time, especially after reading The Three Musketeers (review) and La dame aux camellias (review). I sort of had to wait until all my coursework was completed so that I could focus on this book a bit more xP May contain some spoilers ahead!
This book is part of the Books on France Reading Challenge 2013 that I am participating in.
Hands down, the scale of this novel is epic. The Three Musketeers was my first encounter with Dumas’ epic handling of large events and sequences but what is especially impressive about this novel is how cohesive events are in this novel. This book spanned years for the characters and with the amount of characterisation, character drama and development happening throughout the novel, it’s impressive to see how Dumas was able to keep the plot together and the characterisations consistent. Not to mention it’s just a heck of an story: there’s of course the adventurous quality to the story–travelling to distant shores, defeating the odds, amassing riches, etc.–but unlike The Three Musketeers, there’s a deep and dark conflict within the plot between vengeance and justice and avenging for the wrongs committed against the self.
The reader follows Edmond Dantes from the happiest day of his life to the crappiest day of his life to the darkest period of his life and afterward. It’s a pretty human reaction to want to retaliate against those who wronged you–Edmond after all lost 14 years of his life thanks to the greed and jealousy of those who acted against him, the prime years of his life–and as the protagonist and the character you’re following throughout the novel, you’re rooting for him. But what’s interesting about the course of the story is that you also find yourself questioning along the way how far should Edmond go in getting back at the people who ruined his life, is this the only way for him to deal with his enemies? Because at one point, his objectives are pretty stark: get back at the people who wronged him, including anyone related to these people. And then there’s the question of what happens to him afterwards? Will he be satisfied or will his life be over as well?
Despite of these big questions–which makes for some really great character drama–I really did enjoy reading the count just mess with everyone. I guess part of the enjoyment comes from the fact that as the reader, we know what the count’s planning on doing so it’s interesting to watch him play these people into a false sense of security, maneuver events into his hand, etc. His time incarcerated really prepared him for this kind of preparation, complete with chameleon changes and the like. And talk about patience, taking over 10 years to amass his riches and credibility before moving in after these people.
The plethora of characters that populate this novel were also interesting, fleshed-out. There are of course the four individuals Edmond is out to get–Caderousse, Danglars, Fernand and de Villefort. of the four, I found de Villefort the most interesting because of his reasons behind not helping Edmond; he imprisoned an innocent man essentially to protect his own position and aspirations. Yet in the end all of his pride, all of his affairs and not-so-good-actions came back and bit him badly. Fernand strangely enough felt like a non-entity at times in the second half of the novel but his final confrontation with the count was very dramatic.
I was a little apprehensive for a while in the novel because of Mercedes’ presence and her role in the latter half of the novel. On the one hand, Edmond really loved Mercedes and was anticipating a happy life together at the start of the novel. One hoped for a happy reunion at some point in the novel. And yet with the circumstances at the start of the count’s presence in Paris–Mercedes married to Fernand, with child, a prominent member of Parisian society–one wonders a) whether Mercedes is fully ingrained in the haughtiness of the upper classes and b) whether the count will have no choice but to exact his revenge on her as well, given that she married his enemy. But how the story turned out was satisfactory, bittersweet–there could have been more tension and I wished Mercedes had more a presence during the latter half of the novel to keep the count on his toes but otherwise I’m glad it ended up where it did.
Despite the intriguing story, there were chunks of this novel that just went on and on and were not as interesting as other storylines. The count, for one thing, is in it for the long haul, which means it took months and years for his plans to move forward. Realistically the pacing was just right but at times I wished the narrative would just fast-forward a bit. Additionally, I realised that I became bored during the scenes that didn’t feature the count; I skimmed through those segments but it was important still to read them because eventually storylines did overlap and cross into the overarching story themes. But scenes were always far more interesting whenever Edmond was in the scene.
Overall, The Count of Monte Cristo is a sprawling adventure that is not only thrilling but poses some very introspective ideas. It is a chunky book but well worth the read.