It took a month of steady reading, but I finally made it through all 1,078 pages of The Count of Monte Cristo. Normally I’m a fast reader and take the liberty of skimming over boring bits, but Dumas’ book has no superfluous details. He is a master story teller and every incident in the book is connected with every other.
The book, though not abounding in rich insights into human character ala George Eliot or Anthony Trollope, is extremely well-written. Kudos to the translator Robin Buss for doing a modern translation that sounded as if it had been written two hundred years ago. Although I disliked his introduction which imposed 21st Century themes on the book, I appreciated his skillful use of language.
An example from p. 75: He shut himself with two bottles of cassis and tried to drown his anxiety in drunkenness. But such was his state of mind that two bottles were not enough to extinguish his thoughts; so he remained, too drunk to fetch any more wine, and not drunk enough to forget….
From p. 762: Noirtier had just sent for him… He had set out at a fair pace from the Rue Meslay and was on his way to the Faubourg Saint-Honoré. He was proceeding at a jog, while poor Barrois followed on as best he could. Morrel was thirty-one, Barrois sixty; Morrel was drunk with love, Barrois faint with heat. The two men, so different in age and interests, were like two sides of a triangle: separated at the base, meeting at the apex; the apex was Noirtier.
The story is too complex for a short blog post and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who might be stouthearted enough to give it a chance. It is described as a story of revenge, but it is more subtle than that. (The 2002 movie version has none of this subtlety, by the way.) Edmond Dantés is deeply wronged by a handful of men at the book’s beginning. Yes, he does spend his years in prison planning revenge, but when his opportunity finally comes it is not by outright confrontation, but by digging up enough of their past lives so that his enemies are punished by society in general. At the end of the book Dantés looks over Paris and states, “O great city! In you I found what I was looking for; like a patient miner, I churned your entrails to expel the evil from them.” In actuality it is the sins of his enemies that come back to haunt them. Dantés only helps the ghosts along.