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.
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.