28 July 2013

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

I don't often do reviews, but I had to do this one. It was such an amazing book and I'd like to share my thoughts on it.

Some mild spoilers and plot devices, nothing serious.

The Count of Monte Cristo
by Alexandre Dumas, pere
5/5 stars

"All of human wisdom is summed up in these two words: wait and hope."

Photo Credit: Goodreads

So says the final line of the more-than-1000-page book that I finished reading for a week. But don't let that throw you off. The Count of Monte Cristo is not a boring book at all. It is long. I will say that. If you want a book that you can finish in an hour and call it a day, this book is not for you.

If, however, you want a book that you can take your time on, a book that will keep you wondering about the plot and characters even when you're not reading it, a book that has so many twists and turns to make it exciting and dramatic, then this is the book for you.

For a book revolving around several families, at least 50 different characters, and in a character chart that looks like this, the plot is astonishingly simple. A young sailor, Edmond Dantes, returns home successful from a voyage. Everyone's impressed with him: he's young, handsome, soon to be married to a beautiful girl, and to be promoted captain on his next voyage. Everyone, that is, except two people: his first mate and his fiancee's cousin. They're jealous of him. They're evil. The former wants his position and glory. The latter wants his girl. So they write a letter framing him for siding with Napoleon (this was in 1815) and Edmond is taken away by an unjust procurer and sent to prison for life.

While in prison, Edmond never loses hope. He stays there years and years, and finally, when he plans to starve himself, another prisoner breaks into his cell with some tools. (The original dig-through-your-cell-with-spoons trick.) With the help of this very interesting prisoner, Edmond learns the ways of the world and learns to be a cold, sauve, calculating person who has the power to inflict revenge on those three who made him suffer. This prisoner tells Edmond of a secret treasure hidden on the island of Monte Cristo. Eventually Edmond escapes from prison after fourteen years, and finds the treasure on Monte Cristo. He becomes The Count of Monte Cristo (along with a handful of aliases, the best part) and begins the slow, revengeful plot to wreak havoc.

All of that is just in the first 200 pages. Wow. The rest of the novel does not disappoint, unless you're really sure that you want something to happen and it doesn't. But if you look at the novel through the tragedies Edmond suffered, there really is a lot going for him. And it does turn out satisfying in the end. But be careful. Telling someone you really like this book will say a lot about you. It does for me. It's wickedly evil, delightfully dramatic (they have so many altercations in the Paris Opera it's amazing) and has a lot of allusions. That's another thing.

(I'd recommend you know The Arabian Nights, just the backdrop. Monte Cristo likes his Arabian Nights, and frequently references them without explaining. You might want to look into that. Also into several factors from Roman times. I can't give any names without giving away major plot details, but just try to look up the references as they come to not be confused. And, of course, know Napoleon's time. They do have a lot of hatred, those Royalists and Bonapartists...)

In a book of over 1000 pages, sometimes you might despair. I did twice. "It isn't gonna finish! Oh no! He hasn't done anything!" Yes, it can seem that way many times. But unlike certain books (War and Peace, Les Miserables) the prose is fluid and you can really understand it. But even I read it in degrees. I read roughly 100-300 pages per day, and I took breaks. Unless you're really hooked, read it in pieces. I read maybe 20 pages at a time, then stopped to eat or whatever. Or just stopped to take it in. You WILL be thinking about it often. So yeah. Take it easy and enjoy the ride.

Another thing: Don't get the abridged version. How do you know if it's abridged? It has about 600 pages, and COMPLETELY skips a scandalous affair that is super important, some illegitimate children, attempted killing of a newborn, a drug trip, a lesbian relationship (don't worry, nothing's explicit out of any of these) and a lot more. You could read the abridged version but you'd miss so much and you'll be confused. But for a truly rewarding journey about betrayal, revenge, love, hope, and treachery, read this book in its thousand-page-plus entirety. You'll never be bored.

Click here to buy the book on Amazon. Click here to read it for free on Project Gutenberg (but some people don't like that version. I really don't know about such things, though.)


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