Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

Book Title: The Count of Monte Cristo
Author:
Alexandre Dumas (pere)
Original Publication Date:
1845
Edition Read:
Gutenberg (i.e. free public domain download) via Kobo e-reader
Total Pages:
I have no idea. I have seen unabridged printed copies anywhere from 875 – 1,300. The Kobo e-book had 3,372 in large text.
Genre:
Fiction/Classic
Reason Read:
Book Blogger Betty @ Betty’s Books reviewed as one of her Top 10 favorites and the plot summary sounded like a fun way to spend my winter hibernation
Rating:
3 out of 5 Stars

“The story will be very long, excellency.”

“What matter? You know I take but little sleep, and I do not suppose you are very much inclined for it either.
(Pg. 22 of Chpt. 44 – The Vendetta)

Well let me just say that Monsieur Dumas liked to talk. A LOT. This book was in reality not unlike the “Ripped From The Headlines” episodes we watch on TV crime dramas today. It seems that Dumas took the true life of one Pierre Picaud that was detailed in an essay by police archivist, Jacques Peuchet, incorporated some plot details provided by Dumas’ common behind the scenes collaborator, Auguste Maquet, and embellished the tale into one of action, adventure, romance, greed, revenge and hope. The plot was so intricate, the players so vast, that it took Dumas many many pages to convey all of the details he felt necessary. I applaud those who prefer essays to soundbites. But sometimes, like with one of my mother-in-law’s stories, I just want them to get back to the point already.

Sigh. Where to begin? Young Edmond Dantes is an up and comer in the sea merchant world. He has just been promoted to the helm of his employer’s ship and is on leave at home in southeastern France on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea in Marseille with his elderly father and enchanting bride. On the eve of his wedding, he is arrested out of the blue and thrown in prison without trial or explanation other than that he is accused of being a sympathizer of the exiled Napoleon.

Dantes is not a political kind of guy. He doesn’t have an opinion one way or the other regarding the currently unpopular former ruler of France. He has no idea how he ended up in the notorious Chateua d’If’s cellar, locked away from the world forgotten by all but the guard who brings him food each day. This prison is like our own Alcatraz. The worst people were sent there with no hope of escape. Dantes spends 14 years there, doomed to misery and death, until his dungeon neighbor, Abbe Faria, inadvertently digs through to his cell rather than to the outer wall. His new friend gives him a superior education on worldly things and also helps him to figure out who his enemies were and what motives they had in causing him to land here forever.

When Dantes does finally escape by quite clever, unbelievable and fortunate means, he inherits a secret fortune beyond measurement and uses it to turn himself into The Count of Monte Cristo. This alter ego’s sole purpose is to exact revenge upon the persons who destroyed his life and took away everything and everyone that was precious to him as Dantes.

This sounds like a pretty kick-ass plot if you ask me. What drove me crazy was the length of time it took for the plot to move along. I felt as if I was the one trapped in that dungeon in despair – biding my time hoping only for the plot to GET MOVING ALREADY!!!

Dumas teases the reader here and there with bits of action or new characters to focus on. But for the first third of the book I was questioning my commitment. Where were the Johnny Depp swashbuckling pirates? The devilish vengeful moments causing pain and destruction with pleasure? Where were the reunited lovers? Instead what I got were long drawn out descriptions of Rome, excessive spending sprees, a full of himself hero and snotty rich kids on vacation. Blah blah blah. Then there was a new backstory of a pauper orphan’s rise to ruthless bandit infamy. This would all come back into play about 500 pages later but without access to a character guide (that didn’t provide spoilers to what happened to each character) I got lost in things.

When the story finally moved to Paris, where it seemed things were going to all come together, we spent hundreds of pages meeting some of the original characters whose names had all changed and their offspring, friends and co-workers who each had complicated webs of connection. There were lavish parties and dinners but not a lot of action.

The final third of the book is when everything comes together. But by then, I had stopped caring for much of them and forgot who the bad guys were and who were just going to be collateral damage. Much like Ocean’s Eleven, where the heist is pulled off with so much planning and impossible perfection, the Count gets his revenge and outs himself to those who created this monster. But it wasn’t all that clever or entertaining to watch like it was with George Clooney and Matt Damon.

No. It was pretty damn sad. The Count had 14 years of his life wasted by others. Then he wasted another 10 years of his life by choice, hardening his heart to horror and living without emotion. Only to discover that perhaps he had been a bit too gung ho in his task. That maybe he wasn’t divine intervention incarnated. The moral of the story is to be patient and trust in the heavens above and hope that things work out they way they should. And in the meantime, live life valuing happiness rather than exacting destruction.

Dumas is a compelling figure to me, having battled racism throughout his life, being biracial. I enjoyed reading about his own life history. But Dumas is far from a great wordsmith. His books were written to be popular adventure tales. I won’t count that against him. I was thankful to have an electronic dictionary and encyclopedia at my fingertips to explain the many antiquated words or terms and to learn about the historical places and events brought to fictional life. There were lots of references to mythology, cultural pieces, politics and ways of life that just were not common knowledge to me. As I’ve said before, I much prefer learning the basics of history through entertaining classics rather than text books. But when the plot is too slow and the characters too vast to hold my interest throughout, the effect is the same. I drift away but persevere.

I know many of you love this book. And I did love many parts myself. But for me, it could not pass the 3 Classic Excuses test. It was much too long, with too many boring chapters and required a lot of effort to sift through those sections to absorb the great quotes, lessons and enjoyment. I would recommend an abridged version, a re-telling in modern times or just a cool fireside story told verbally by a friend or family member over the course of vacation evenings. The story was worth being told. But it isn’t in my Top Ten.

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About thebumbles

In addition to online Freelance Writing, Molly blogs about books on Quirky Girls Read and about everything else on The Bumbles Blog. Visit her often and let her know what you think! Unless you are a Yankee fan - then there might be a problem ;0)
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22 Responses to Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

  1. izzybella says:

    Okay, so this:

    The moral of the story is to be patient and trust in the heavens above and hope that things work out they way they should.

    made me laugh. But only because of the way you had already described the pace of the story. I think this moral was both literal and metaphorical.

    I do not think this would have passed my 100 page rule, so even though I loathe abridged editions of books, that might be the only way I’d read it. Or annotated. Or something!! Perhaps I will just revisit George Clooney and Matt Damon. 🙂

    • Bumbles says:

      Haha! I had not intended that second layer of meaning but it was very true for me during this read! I do not generally promote abridged versions for other than young readers wanting to be introduced to classics – I remember reading many abridged/kids’ versions of books like Little Women when I was a young girl for example. But seriously, this book’s plot just did not generate enough page turning enthusiasm for me to keep the focus off of the length and effort. I’m not sure why. Maybe the translation I read did a disservice to the man’s work.

  2. Sounds like Hunchback of Notre Dame–the only way I managed to slog through it was by listening to it (unabridged) on CD. It’s amazing how long it takes to get anywhere. So if I can find it at the library on CD, I may give it a shot. Otherwise, I’m not going to bother. The urge to hurl it across the room could become too strong, and I’d end up ruining my nook color.

    • Bumbles says:

      I bet with the right narrator/reader it could be really entertaining on audio – but I’d still want a printed out list of who’s who to keep track! The challenge with that was that everyone’s names changed so I kept mixing them up in my head.

  3. Margot says:

    Have I seen this movie? I know I haven’t read it but the plot sounds familiar. When I hear the name, Count of Monte Cristo, I visualize an old-time actor whose basic good looks manage to survive the years in the dungeon and then look very dashing in his new role after prison. I’m sure the movie version was much more romantic, and much shorter, than all those pages you had to slog through.

    I like your analogy of this classic to modern day “from the headlines” stories. When I stop and think about it, it makes sense that, at the time this was written, writers would do the same thing. All writers, well almost all, write from what they know. I like the idea that The Count of Monte Cristo was based on a real person. I would love it if the story had some sort of devious politician/bad guy behind the whole thing and the core of the story was uncovering all that. I guess it goes back to my expectations have been honed by the movies I’ve seen.

    Very good job, Molly. You helped me understand the book as well as your take on it.

  4. kaye says:

    I enjoyed your review and although I love the story-line I felt the book was slow and sluggish as well. Though I’m pretty sure I must have read an abridged version because I think it only had about 400 pages, so it probably moved faster than yours. I did like the movie very much (It must be the 2002 release). I thought the count was as much a villian as the villians however, but he was kind-of a heroic villian and I think somewhere in all of us lives a little bit of that person who would just like to get even.

    • Bumbles says:

      Thanks Kaye. I agree – The Count was hard to like/root for most of the time for me. He was very cold and seemed like he treated his servants less like people than you would expect from someone who was dehumanized for so many years. So it was hard for me to get behind his plan at times. I did enjoy the section near the end where he questions his journey/quest and re-lives the beginning of all that happened to him to “justify” his purpose. It helped to remind me of all he had been through a gazillion pages before ;0)

  5. jehara says:

    The first time I read this was in my language arts class. It was the first book I remember really enjoying that was assigned reading. I was so engrossed in the story that it flew by pretty quickly. I saw the 2002 movie a few years ago on DVD. I don’t recall how much I liked the movie, but it did prompt me to acquire a copy of the book and re-read it. I enjoyed it the second time around.

    I did NOT know that the story was based on a real person. That is interesting. You know, your review kinda makes me want to read this again. . .

    • Bumbles says:

      I read that there were a lot of differences between that particular movie and the book. The changes helped to move the plot along but I think they take away from some of the major points of the novel – that revenge is not the answer and you don’t always get the misery or happiness that you deserve.

      I always encourage a re-read of a book that is remembered fondly – there is always the opportunity to pick up on something new not having to focus on everything as being new to you.

  6. Kathleen says:

    I really enjoyed this one when I read it about 10 years ago. Your comments are making me wonder what I might think of it now, if I were to reread it. I do remember that it was slow in some parts but I loved the whole revenge storyline.

    • Bumbles says:

      It’s funny – as I was reading all of the various movie plot summaries and saw how much they varied from the novel, I started getting defensive in my mind.

      “How could they change THAT?! That’s the whole crux of Dumas’ work! Why make it at all if you can’t find time for those important pieces?”

      Which flies in the face of my reading and review which complained about things being too drawn out. Sometimes I find myself enjoying things more the greater the distance I have from them.

  7. MWK says:

    I remember loving this book when I read it when I was younger but I do remember my mom looking at the book as I read it and making a comment about how back then “they paid by the word.” Or maybe she said that about Les Miserables? The point sticks either way. I have NO idea if that is true or not but I’ve always used that as the explanation in my head for why those books are so darn long. Like Margot, though, my main image of the book is a handsome man in an more-french-seeming Alcatraz…who then is magically in Paris being unrecognized by his bride and hanging out in parlors.

    • Bumbles says:

      Well then Dumas must have been a very rich dude! Most of the chapters were very short so you could read it in spurts at a time – which makes me think it may have been released serially? I wonder if when things were released a few chapters at a time if the work was fully written before it was published in pieces or if the author wrote as they went? That might account for some of the long-windedness. It is easy to ramble when you are focused only on the piece at hand rather than editing within a big piece. Or if your publisher said they wanted to extend things for a few more weeks since it was so popular – requiring the author to write some filler – like any good soap opera.

      In any event – your memory is accurate. I found it very unlikely that none of those people would recognize him – not necessarily as Edmond Dantes, but as The Count – since he switched into other costumed personalities such as the Abbe Busoni – from one day to the next, interacting with the same people. However, Mercedes – his fiancee – did recognize him right off. So that made things more realistic.

    • izzybella says:

      I could definitely see the comment being about Les Miserables. After loving the musical, I tried to read it. It wasn’t very similar. 😀

  8. stacybuckeye says:

    Huh. Guess I can mark this off my to read before I lose my sight list. I did enjoy the movie, but it’s too long to have the complaints that you gave. I’d never make it!

  9. Jay says:

    “But Dumas is far from a great wordsmith.”

    Not true. Dumas was a fantastic wordsmith. The reason this is a problem for many, is he goes into depth on subjects that many 21st-century Americans are not even remotely familiar with.

    The classic French authors of the 19th century were notable for their attention to extreme detail; they wrote for more than just a good plot, they also wrote for knowledge. You blame the fact that you had a hard time with the lengthiness of the book on the author, when really it’s your own fault. You see so much of the book as pointless and irrelevant, but really it was very relevant to what Dumas was trying to convey. He wasn’t writing a book just about a man in love who was wrongly accused and spent much of his life planning and then carrying out an intricate plan of revenge. He was also writing a book about the conflicts of nationalism versus those loyal to Napolean during that time in France.

    Obviously, if you’re reading a book just for the obvious, gripping plot it presents, then this is not the book for you. Personally I read for more than just entertainment. I love expanding my brain with knowledge and literature. I find 19th-century France fascinating, and frankly, that’s what much of the book is about. There’s so much about France that you can learn in this book that you can’t learn from many history books.

    Personally, I think this book is a timeless work of genius through and through, although I do understand why many have a different perspective on it.

    And yes, I am a guy, haha… Sorry for barging in.

    • thebumbles says:

      Barge on in any time, Jay! I appreciate your thoughts. All very true – there were lots of history lessons and political commentary going on in this novel. The greater the distance between my reading of the book the more fond I become of it, if that makes sense? I watched one of the movie versions recently and was so irritated that they changed the entire plot. I do appreciate learning from my reading – fictional tales or otherwise. War & Peace is one of my favorite classics. I just did not connect with Dumas’ voice or style – or that of the translator perhaps?

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