Monday, March 30, 2009

What I'm Reading Now-The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas-Wow. Where to begin? First of all, the edition I read (Modern Library, pictured and linked here) had 1462 pages-this is not a quick read! You may remember I started reading this back in January. Let me see if I can sum this up...

Okay, 1800s France, Edmond Dantès has been wrongly accused of conspiring with the Bonapartists. He is scheduled to marry the love of his life, and is thrown in jail on the eve of his marriage. When he finally emerges years later, his loved ones are dead, have disappeared, or are in dire straits, and he is a little bitter. Wouldn't you be? He spends the next 1200 or so pages plotting and carrying out his revenge, and it is pretty sweet, I have to say. I would kind of like to hire Edmond Dantès, actually. I have a few people whose names he could put on his list. This man has nothing but time and money on his hands, and he makes excellent use of it. He is not purely evil though, lest you get the wrong idea. He still has a strong moral code, and he also makes it a point to reward those who have been good to him.

I have to say, by about page 1200 or so, I knew pretty much where he was going with everything, and he could have just gotten on with it by then, and I sort of felt like the buildup of the revenge and the anticipation was much more satisfying than the actual carrying out of the revenge in a lot of cases...perhaps that says more about me and my nature than it does about the writing...

Anyway, there is a lot of background reading here, scenes being played out, introductions being made, conversations being had, and I kept sort of thinking, Where's the action? but then I realized that this was all story telling in one of the finest forms I've ever seen. I don't think there was anything superfluous in these 1462 pages. Certainly, things could have been done more quickly and with less detail (see how nicely I condensed the entire 1462 pages into 3 sentences above?). but then you lose a bit of the richness of the story (again, see same 3 sentences). There are hidden treasures, wrongful incarcerations, bandits, uninhabited islands, disguises, Mardi Gras celebrations, suspense, bankruptcies, Greek slaves, love, unrequited love, murder, illicit drugs, public executions, and, of course, revenge! All of these play out from the very beginning to the very end in this rich, rich story.

In the third installment of the 2009 Weekly Geeks, the subject was classic literature. People were asked to talk about their relationships to classics-love them, hate them, afraid of them-and to recommend some classics for those who may be curious but a little intimidated. Many people listed The Count of Monte Cristo as one of their favorites, and I can see why. In fact, that particular Weekly Geeks is what prompted me to pick up this classic, and I'm so glad I did! (I will try to get some links up a bit later to other WGs who mentioned The Count of Monte Cristo. I just wanted to get this post out so that I can take my way overdue copy back to the library!)

One tip for the reader (and potential minor spoiler): If, around page 588, you think a certain character has died, and then you see him show up again around page 655, and you think WTH? but you keep reading and by page 800 you're still thinking, WTH??, don't go back and skim through the last 700 or so pages trying to figure it out (although in those 700 pages you will probably find a lot of little things that you didn't pick up on before). On about page 851 it will be explained. I'm just sayin'.

One thing that I had a hard time with, besides the lengthiness, was that the entire plot revolved around what seemed to be a huge number of coincidences, but really, when I considered the time span of the story (about 20 years or so) there really was time for all the pieces to be put into place and fall the way they did. Another thing that was difficult for me was keeping track of all that was happening. I am not very familiar with the setting, and I kept having to go back and re-read things to figure out what was happening from a historical stand-point and who everybody was. Monsieur de Villefort is the son of Monsier Noirtier (of course!) and Mademoiselle Morrell is now Madame Herbault and Albert in Rome is Viscount Morcerf in France, etc. As I said, there is very little, if any, throw-away material in this book, so if you miss something early on, it's probably going to be important later.

I think this is a book that is definitely worth reading once, and I can certainly see why it is considered a classic. It would probably be worth reading a second time to pick up all those little details that I missed the first time around...but I don't know if I ever will. It was a lot of work, but worth it.

What other Weekly Geeks thought about this classic:

Maree at Just Add Books put in a hearty effort earlier in the year, but had a rough time making it all the way through. I hope she is able to pick it back up-half of a 1400+ page book is a lot to read to then not read the other half.

At Master Musings by Michelle, Michelle points out that TCoMC provides a nice "manly" option in the classics.

Melissa at Book Nut discusses The Three Muskateers and TCoMC here. I felt much the same way about the writing as she did.

Courtney at Galt's Gulch provides a great review too.

Have you read The Count of Monte Cristo? If not, have I inspired you or scared you away for life? (Or am I just giving myself way too much credit?) If so, what did you think?


Chris said...

I agree, this is a great book. It's very soap opera-ish don't you think?

Dreamybee said...

LOL-It totally is!

courtneykir said...

Best book ever. I've read it several times (and just blogged about it) and will probably read it again in a couple of years. You should read it again. And the second time I read it (a number of years ago) I wrote a chart to map out who all the characters were and how they were connected to Monte Cristo. A similar chart is on the Wikipedia entry for this book.

Great post!

courtneykir said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dreamybee said...

After courtneykir's comment above, I visited her blog and read her review, which I thought was good an provided some thoughts on some aspects of the book that I didn't cover here. I mentioned how I didn't care for the ending a whole lot, one thing in particular, but I didn't say what that one thing was in an effort not to spoil anything. Courtney then returned here with a follow-up comment which contained the exact spoiler that I was trying to avoid. So, below is the text of her comment, but I've removed the spoiler part. All the rest is unchanged:

I actually liked the ending. I felt that the methods of revenge were perfect, and Dantès found some semblance of resolve and happiness. I think a lot of people must not like the ending though, because all the movie versions have him ____________ instead of _______________. I liked that it ended with mystery. My only complaint is that it ended, and the story is so entertaining and enthralling I wish it would go on forever!

Dreamybee said...

Additional thoughts: I can see how a chart would be extremely helpful in this novel. I did think about doing that a few times, but the 700-page re-skim that I did helped set a lot of things straight in my mind!

According to Courtney's review, the Modern Library edition, which is what I read, is not a completely unabridged version, which I did not realize. Seriously, how is 1462 pages the abridged version?? Anyway, it sounds like I missed a bit at the end of the story, but I don't know if it's enough to change my opinion of the ending. I don't mind ending on a mystery so much as I was a little befuddled by his choice in actions. There was something that I thought he was working toward with all his plotting and planning and revenge and whatnot and it turned out not to be the case.