Author: Alexandre Dumas
Pages: 1264 (paperback)
Published: 2008 (first published 1844)
Published by: HarperPerennial
The ultimate story of escape to riches, revenge and redemption by 'the Napoleon of storytellers'. Falsely accused of treason, Edmond Dantes is arrested on his wedding night and imprisoned in the grim island fortress of Chateau d'If. After staging a dramatic escape he sets out to discover the fabulous treasure on the island of Monte Cristo and uses it to exact revenge on those responsible for his incarceration. The sensational narrative of intrigue, betrayal, escape and triumphant revenge moves at a cracking pace. Dumas' novels present a powerful conflict between good and evil embodied in an epic saga of rich diversity that is complicated by the hero's ultimate discomfort with the hubristic implications of his own actions. A novel of enormous tension and excitement, The Count of Monte Cristo is also a tale of obsession and revenge, with Dantes, believing himself to be an Angel of Providence, pursuing his vengeance to the bitter end before realising that he himself is a victim of fate.
Edmond Dantes is a happy-go-lucky sailor, devoted to his father, and engaged to and deeply in love with the beautiful fisher girl Mercedes. He seems to have it all and therein lies his problem, for when jealous rivals find an opportunity they collude to bring about his downfall. Unfortunate circumstances and deplorable choices from many involved result in Edmond being imprisoned unjustly and thrown into the dungeons of the Chateau d'If. He befriends a fellow prisoner, allowing him to escape fourteen years later an educated man and with the secret to a treasure buried on the small, uninhabited island of Monte Cristo. With his millions (and millions. And millions.) secured he sets out on his revenge of those who betrayed him.
This book has three distinct parts: pre-imprisonment, imprisonment and post-imprisonment. Pre-imprisonment is a good introduction to all the characters, especially Dantes who is just a lovely guy. Pretty much everyone likes him and he's happy living a simple life as long as he can support himself and his father and marry Mercedes.
During his imprisonment you see him harden and change. He goes through believable cycles of hope and despair, even going so far as trying to starve himself at one point. Escape and the return to those he loves is the one thought in his mind for most of the fourteen years of his imprisonment, even when he is befriended by the Abbe Faria, who is quite clearly a 'good guy'. There is very little ambiguity between the good guys and the bad guys: there are those who've helped Dantes and those who've not. I suppose this sort of ambiguity is something that's come more into more modern literature, but it made a nice change to know who you could trust and who you weren't supposed to like. The Abbe sets out to pass on his vast wealth of knowledge, and Dantes proves an apt pupil. It is also the Abbe who passes on the secret of a vast fortune he has discovered.
While these two sections are very good, they are basically quite a long pre-amble section which is giving the tools for Monsieur le Comte de Monte Cristo to get his revenge. Though for all this they are probably some of my favourite parts, possibly because they are very easy to read.
We rejoin the story nine years after Dantes' escape, and his transformation into the Count of Monte Cristo is complete. He is well established in society, has furthered his education and established a coterie of servants (and slaves) about him. And this is where the fun begins. You know who he's going to go after, but he sets in motion these incredibly complex events to try and bring about their downfall without the least suspicion falling on him, and while you know this is what he is doing at the start it is very difficult to see how his actions will lead to this. I think this is even more impressive when you consider that this was published as a serial: there could be no going back and changing things to make it work better when (if) hiccups came along in the plot. Dumas just had to keep writing!
One thing I particularly like is that not everything goes to plan. Things go wrong with what the Count planned through information he doesn't know (though he does seem to know pretty much everything), unexpected relationship and pleas. But similarly there are some lucky coincidences that make things easier. At least I think they were coincidences...you never quite know with the Count. He could just be that good. Which is actually one thing that's a little annoying - he is amazing at, like, everything. He's intelligent and articulate, a master marksman and sword fighter, he can converse in multiple languages without the trace of an accent, has an incredible knowledge of chemistry, is a master reader and manipulator of people, and seems to be quite handsome too. I think music is the only thing that he doesn't excel in, but I'm making this assumption based on the fact that he doesn't partake in any musical demonstrations rather than through anything which said he was bad at it.
And then there's the characters. In the 23 years between his imprisonment and his arrival in Paris to gain his revenge (isn't it lucky they all live in the same city now?) they've got married and had children and lost spouses and remarried and had more children who are now engaged to people (sometimes each other). There are an awful lot of names thrown at you in quite a short space of time, and an awful lot of relationships established. I found it quite confusing at first, and still had blank moments towards the end of the book, having to work hard at who someone's father was, what he'd done to Dantes and how his downfall was being brought about. And it was at this point that my reading of the book fell off for a week or so.
I'd loved the in prison and escape chapters, and while it was necessary for the skip-forward, I struggled a little to get back into the swing of things, especially that the central character was no longer such. There are quite significant sections where he makes no appearance, and for me Dantes/Monte Cristo is the best part of the story. For all his being annoying being-good-at-everything-ness.
The end of the story, though, is rather wonderful. Seeing the consequences of some of his actions shocks the Count into change, and there is a happy ending for some (though nowhere near all) of the characters, often in spite of the actions taken by Monte Cristo. The ending - sailing away into the sunset - was a little cliched, but it was a nice end to a rather amazing book.
Though a little dry in places, the story is amazing and generally easy to read. It might take a while, but I'd definitely recommend it.