by Alexandre Dumas
Young Edmond Dantès has a wonderful future before him: he's engaged to the love of his life, the beautiful Mercédès, has been made captain of a ship, and he's surrounded by loving family and friends. Unbeknownst to him, he's made enemies determined to bring him down, and they succeed: Dantès is framed for a crime he did not commit, and he's thrown into prison for the next fourteen years. Whilst there, Dantès befriends a mad abbé who claims to have a great treasure hidden away; when the ailing priest dies, Dantès is able to escape and claim the treasure. Now styling himself the Count of Monte Cristo, he hurries back to France with only one thing on his mind: revenge.
Every year, I try to read at least one of the great, oversized classic novels. Last year was Anna Karenina; this year I decided on The Count of Monte Cristo after deciding that I wasn't quite ready to re-tackle Don Quixote.
Edmond Dantès is pretty much the 19th century version of Batman: an anguished, angry man lashing out at the evil in the world to avenge the loss of his perfect world. In fact, I can't help but wonder if Monte Cristo was, in fact, a huge influence on Bob Kane as he worked on his caped crusader. One thing's for sure: no one does revenge as patiently and as thoroughly as the Count.
The novel was originally serialized, so there are dozens of subplots and side characters populating the book in order to stretch it to maximum length. Tying all these men and women together at times requires circumstances that belie belief as the the most ridiculous of coincidences unfold. But this is a grand adventure that hits the ground running and refuses to stop for anything, and my small complaints can't stand up against the relentless journey of the juggernaut.
It's hard to find a hero in the novel. The Count can't really be one, since he's out for revenge and isn't that bad? The 'heroic' young men he takes under his wing are just too prideful or too annoying for me to want to root for them. The women are either saints (Valentine, Haydée) or calculating harpy whores (Héloïse, Madame Danglars). In the end, I think the person I had the most respect for was Mercédès, since this was a woman who found herself beset by tragedy again and again in her life, but did her best to carry on honorably each time.
Although part of me rebels against the incredible verbosity of the novel, I had a lot of fun reading it. Dumas was a master at creating a suspenseful, engrossing story!
4 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: Lost Voices by Sarah Porter
2010: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
2009: The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan
2008: China Chic: East Meets West by Valerie Steele & John S. Major