Thursday, 6 September 2012

Review: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Falsely accused of treason, Edmond Dantes is imprisoned in the infamous Chateau d'If.  There he meets the Abbe Faria, who educates him and tells him of the legendary treasure of Monte Cristo.  After a daring (and somewhat foolhardy) escape, Edmond finds the treasure, re-invents himself as the fabulously wealthy Count of Monte Cristo, and seeks revenge on those who betrayed him.

Published: 1844-46
Pages: 1,264 (Harper Perennial, 2008)
Read: 20/8/12 - 6/9/12
Challenge(s): Project Fill in the Gaps

First line: "On the 24th of February, 1815, the lookout of Notre-Dame de la Garde signalled the three-master, the Pharaon, from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples."

Review: I have a couple of confessions to make regarding my reading of this book:

1) Although I've owned a copy for years, I only started reading it recently because I'm hooked on Revenge and had heard that the series was loosely based on this novel.
2) A lot of my ideas about the plot were formed by a trailer I saw years ago for a movie adaptation of the book.  Most of these were completely wrong (which I'm glad about, because the trailer made the story look dire and also pretty much told the entire plot in three minutes).
3) I am ridiculously proud of myself for finishing this book.  Given my usual habit of getting distracted and putting books down to pick them up again years later (if ever), the fact that I stuck with this despite its length makes me feel like I'm owed some sort of prize. 

Now that those are out of the way: I really enjoyed this book.  Despite its somewhat intimidating size and the smallness of the text, it's incredibly easy to read - I'd suddenly find that I'd read over a hundred pages and it was a lot later than I thought.  The plot, though convoluted and complex, keeps you reading, especially when Edmond is the Count and wreaking his revenge and you're not quite sure exactly what he's doing or how the vengeance is going to play out.  There are a lot of characters, all with their own agendas and secrets, which all come into play, and despite the sheer number of plot strands everything is wrapped up at the end - possibly a little too neatly but given the juggling act Alexandre Dumas pulled off this is fine.

My main gripe would be that, at the beginning, Edmond is a prat.  The reader is meant to feel sympathy for him - and I did when everything started going wrong - but at first he's a slightly arrogant, thoughtless prat and, while I didn't want him to end up falsely imprisoned for over a decade, I did want someone to at least tell him off a little.  This lack of sympathy continues, to an extent, while he's in prison and after his escape, mostly because the Count is constantly set up as an almost supernatual, utterly inscrutable being.  One of my favourite "oh, you're just messing with the reader now, Dumas" parts of the entire book is how often the Count disguises himself and gets away with it, the height of this being when he is three 'different' men on the same day to the same investigator.  He's up there with Sherlock Holmes in terms of how well he can disguise himself, and it gets more than a little ridiculous.

This, naturally, follows over into no one who knew him before he went to prison recognizing him (with one logical exception).  The people he's seeking vengeance upon invite him to their homes, ask his advice, and blindly accept that this dude has popped up out of nowhere at exactly the same time that their lives start falling apart.  This is often spoken of as divine providence - and the Count sees himself as an agent of God - but it does raise the question of how justified his actions are: yes, he suffered terribly, but he pushes things to such an extent that there are suicides, murders, madness and the near obliteration of an entire family.  And, while Dumas does deal with the downside of this, it's never clear whether he condemns or condones the Count's actions - though, most likely, the latter, while leaving it uncertain for the reader.

Personally, I think it's all a bit overkill, and the ending is a tiny bit too neat.  There are also several moments when I wanted to shout "just tell each other what's going on!" at a few of the characters, and towards the end there's part where the Count really should have just told Morrel what he was up to, it would have stopped a lot of problems.  Yet, despite my ambivalence towards the central figure - and to most of the characters, if I'm honest - I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book.  It's not a swashbuckling yarn as I expected, and there are times when I thought Dumas was being more than a bit ridiculous with what the Count could achieve, but it was fantastically readable and fun for all that.

My Final Thoughts: Not the most sensible of books, but it doesn't have to be.  Continuity errors abound, the characters frequently fail to recognise someone they knew well unless it's convenient for Dumas, and the outcome of all of the plotting and conniving is, potentially, not worth it.  But, for all that I can see plenty of faults with the book, I'm glad I read it and recommend it to anyone looking for a fun (if long) read.

50 Words or Less: Enjoyable read, worth the time it took to plough through it, but a bit messy and full of moments of incredulity.  Less swashbuckling than expected but lots of plotting and manipulating, which keeps you guessing (which is why I've mentioned as few actual plot details as possible in this review).

Rating: 9/10 

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