A while back, I wrote that I started reading The Count of Monte Cristo as a way of catching up on some of the classics I’ve wanted to read, but never found the time. Today, I finished reading the book and, while I felt a sense of relief at having completed such a long story (my Kobo Vox e-reader tells me I turned over 2,200 pages in the process) I also didn’t want the experience to end. The scope of the narrative, character relationships, and the themes of revenge, forgiveness, and hope were remarkably handled by Dumas in such a way as to maintain my interest and keep me guessing as to the final outcome of the work. After 6 months of intense reading punctuated by periods away from the text (I read a number of other books in the middle of finding my way through Monte Cristo), I have to say that this takes the cake as my favourite novel.
Edmond Dantès is one of the great characters in literature. His multiple transformations from lively and optimistic sailor, to defeated prisoner, to man of means with a god complex obsessed with obtaining vengeance against his enemies, finally to one regretful of mistakes he’s made along the way is truly stunning and the great draw of the work for me. The meticulous and precise way in which he enacts his revenge on his enemies Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort shows a master manipulator, who believed the world the puppet to his puppet master; how he manages the ruination and/or death of these people without having to lay a hand on them is brilliant. But it’s the realization that everything comes with a price that makes Dantès such a significant character in the canon of Western classics: his inability to fully control all outcomes, though he feels he has successfully prepared for them, leads to the deaths of innocents (in particular, the young Edward, son of Villefort); collateral damage in his war on the world.
I purposely slowed down my reading of the book so as to make it last, but in the end I had to finish it and as I got closer to the end I became wrapped up in every word, wishing there to be more schemes enacted by the Count. As a fan of his character, I wanted him to achieve his goal of vengeance so badly it hurt, but as a reader I knew that once he had his revenge all would be over and I’d be looking through my bookshelves for something else to read. A book that has me conflicted in such a way is successful in my option.
If you haven’t read The Count of Monte Cristo, do yourself a favour and pick it up, devote the time to it, and see why it’s become such a famous narrative. You’ve probably heard mention of the book or characters in it and how it has become one of the great revenge stories, but it really means nothing until you try it for yourself and see the level of intricacy involved.
Up next: finding a film version that’s worth a viewing.