Raising my clasped hands and casting my eyes upward the skies with an indescribable expression of suffering on my face as the vital force leaves my body causing me to fall senseless on the ground only to rise a moment later filled with a restlessness that cannot be assuaged, pacing endlessly, unconsciously twisting and tearing between my ever moving hands a white cambric cloth soaked with the crystalline tears that drop ceaselessly from my swollen orbs, I cry, “Why is this book so fucking long!”
And then I realized I’m reading an abridged version, which is roughly only half of the whole friggin’ text. Anyway, I’ve finished it last Saturday at last. All due respect to those who love this book, and I see why they do love it: it is an epic swashbuckling story. I just can’t quite get with the extreme mood swings of some of the characters. I know it’s high melodrama, I know it’s a romantic product of a romantic age which elevated and cultivated feeling as a source of right knowledge, but I still find all the fainting and gasping and palpitating and weeping and sweating and leaping to be faintly absurd. Also, probably because it was written as a serial, there are some continuity problems. Its a good book, I liked it, if there were three and a half stars I’d probably go with that and I’m glad I read it.
The Count of Monte Cristo is a delicious book, full of intrigue, great fight scenes, love, passion, and witty social satire. Dumas has a wonderful grasp of human nature and a talent for rendering all the follies of man in delightful, snappy prose. I immediately recognized people that I know (yes, even myself) in his vivid characters, which made the book all the more engaging to me.
There are a few things to consider here. The Count of Monte Cristo is, first and foremost, a rip-rollicking adventure story, filled with action and intrigue. In short, it’s meant to entertain, to keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end. The thins is (this brings me to the second point) it takes a long, long time to get there. The Count of Monte Cristo is a big badass book, and it requires more than a bit of discipline and patience to finish. Last, but certainly not least, it’s important not to overlook the many allusions to history and literature that Dumas has packed in. It may be a fun read, but that fun is rooted in history and literature, and it’d be wrong to overlook that.
Talking about these is a tough one, of course, and I’m not going to do it here. Talking about the plot is equally tough, because there’s really nothing basic about The Count of Monte Cristo. The book seems to fit into a number of categories, at least at first glance. It’s a rags to riches story, you might think. After all, Edmond Dantes, the main character, literally goes from rags (in prison) to riches (on the island of Monte Cristo). There is also the sense of his “Overcoming the Monster,” if you consider man’s capacity to hate his fellow man a kind of monster. Considering how silly and awkward all these attempts to slap a name on The Count‘s plot are, we think it’s best we move on and look at why it doesn’t fit.
Here’s the thing: I assumed that this book is going to have one big old plot arc, but The Count of Monte Cristo doesn’t. For one, there’s more than one plot: The whole Villefort poisoning story can really stand on its own — even though it is a big part of the story; and something about the prison sequence feels…self-contained. You know, they’ve made whole movies about that kind of thing, and most of them don’t involve the protagonist absorbing the whole mass of human knowledge at the same time. Second, and this is really big, there’s really no arc to speak of. It’s really more of a little peak at the beginning (Edmond’s rise to the top), followed by a big drop (Edmond’s fall into the dungeons of the Chateau d’If), followed by a BIG rise (Edmond’s prison break and ten year scheme-planning period, during which everything goes according to plan), followed by a little fall (the Count’s crisis of conscience), ending with the nice little happy voyage over the horizon. This is all to say that most of the theoretical plot-graph is one big red (aren’t the lines on these sorts of things always red?) rising line — and that’s not even taking into account the subplots.
I have been put off by the length of the book — it’s a pretty hefty volume, made more foreboding with the minuscule font size — and now I’m tempted to buy the full, unabridged version. Yikes! I’ve heard from people who’ve read both versions that the abridged version is a pathetic, washed out shadow of the full novel. At any rate, as thick and impossibly long as The Count of Monte Cristo may seem when I opened it and read the initial chapters, I did feel as though it’s far too short by the time I got to the last page.