The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Translated by Robin Buss

First Published: 1844-5
This Translation First Published:
1996
Pages: 1276 including notes  – plus introduction (Hardback)
Form: Novel

Rating: 5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it5/5 = I loved it

A beautiful new clothbound edition of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel The Count of Monte Cristo of wrongful imprisonment, adventure and revenge. Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantes is confined to the grim fortress of the Château d’If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and becomes determined not only to escape but to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. A huge popular success when it was first serialized in the 1840s, Dumas was inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment when writing his epic tale of suffering and retribution.

From Penguin.com – no blurb on clothbound editions

Eeeeeh! Well it looks like 2013 is shaping up to be a good reading year. Not only have I liked pretty much everything I’ve read so far but I’ve discovered a new favourite. When I say that I loved this book, I really mean it. I can’t say it’s my favourite because picking a single favourite is too hard, but it’s definitely among the books  that I would take to a desert island or save from a fire. It’s got everything; revenge, wrongful imprisonment, murder, duels, bandits, drug-fuelled hallucinations, treachery, buried treasure… you name an adventure trope and it’s probably in there – as well  as one of the most scary anti-heroes/anti-villains in fiction. It’s a book that’s so high on melodrama and absurd plot twists it could easily become ridiculous, but it’s so utterly compelling that it never does. At approximately 1250 pages long, it never felt like a slog, in fact it practically zipped along and I’m actually a bit sad to have finished it.

The Count of Monte Cristo tells the story of Edmond Dantès, a young sailor about to be promoted to captain and to marry Mercédès, the love of his life, when, on the day of his wedding, he is falsely accused of being a Bonapartist conspirator by his jealous friend’s and rivals and thrown into Azkaban the island fortress of the Chateau d’If. While rotting away in his dungeon he befriends another prisoner, discovers the location of some burried treasure, and vows to escape and take his revenge on those who put him in prison. All this, and Dantès eventual dramatic escape, happen very early on in the book and from there on it’s almost a thousand pages of long, intricate, gloriously drawn-out revenge schemes as Dantès, transformed into the ‘avenging angel’, the absurdly rich Count of Monte Cristo, returns to destroy the lives of those who wronged him.

His enemies are all now very important men; Fernand, the young man who as in love with his fiancé is now a Count,the respected veteran of many wars,  and married to Mercédès, Danglers, the jealous shipmate who instigated the plot is now a rich and successful banker, and Villefort, the young prosecutor who buried the proof of Dantès innocence to further his own career, is crown prosecutor. But they all have weaknesses, flaws, ambitions, and guilty secrets in their past that the count exploits one by one to ruin them in a twisty-turny adventure of deception, secrets, murder, and betrayal in high Parisian society.

It’s gripping stuff not least because the Count of Monte Cristo is such a terrifying and compelling character. Hardened by his experiences he is cold, calculating, and cruel. Instead of taking a dagger and killing his enemies (as the ‘real life inspiration’ for the character is said to have done) he insinuates himself into their lives, expertly manipulates them, befriends their children, and then sits back and watches impassively as his machinations lead to their self-destruction, happily believing himself to be enacting God’s will. The sheer tension and dramatic irony as the reader watches these ‘friendly’ interactions, knowing, that the Count is plotting everybody’s downfall is what drives the book. He’s an impossible character to like – only towards end does he ever question his methods, his aim, and the collateral damage and innocent people harmed in his  schemes – but damnit he’s compelling. He’s compared, frequently,  in the book to the Lord Ruthven (from the Vampyre by Polidori) and it’s an apt comparison, there’s really more of the vampire and the villain about him than the hero for most of the novel. And that’s where the strength of the book lies, not just in relishing the nasty characters lives come crashing down around them, but in the growing horror of the person Dantès has become,  the lengths he will go to get his revenge. And how, just how, he can ever find redemption and peace or even reconcile himself to an ordinary life once his revenge is finally complete.

I could say more, but I don’t really want to go into any details that will spoil any of the intricate plots. I’ll just leave it by saying again that I loved it. Some of the characters are pretty sketched out and plot-devicey, sure – but then it also has great side characters like the ‘unfeminine’ Eugénie or the stroke victim Noirtier who will save his granddaughter from loneliness, arranged marriages, and murder attempts all while paralysed from the eyes down. It relies massively on coincidences, everybody seems to know each other in contrived, slightly incestuousy ways, and the Count is utterly brilliant at absolutely everything – but then that’s half the fun. Dumas doesn’t always get his continuity right in terms of dates and places but fuck it, with a book this good it just doesn’t bother me. It’s an absolutely wonderful page turner and I loves it. Would highly recommend it to almost anybody (though make sure you go unabridged! And I can’t speak for the quality of other translations).

 

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