What I’m reading: The Count of Monte Cristo

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In an attempt to broaden my background in the classics (an ongoing reading project of mine), I’ve recently taken up Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. I knew it was a lengthy book when I started, but didn’t check the actual page tally of nearly 1,300 (#ereaderproblems) and realized a couple of chapters in that I’d signed on for something that will require quite a level of commitment: a challenge for which I’m prepared.

Though I’m 40% into the title thus far (since using an e-reader it seems everything is in percentages, rather than pages) there is much to like. I had expected a lot of descriptive writing to bog down the text, as can happen with some 19th century works, but Dumas never overuses this, but rather relies quite heavily on dialogue to drive character interactions. In fact, conversations and the relating of episodes can sometimes last one or two chapters at a time. If there’s a possible negative, it would be that certain characters, as Dumas created them, can be long-winded, which will slow down the pace of the novel. It’s something I enjoy, as long as it has a purpose and even Dumas realizes that writing this way can be a problem and so has other characters listening along (quite often Monte Cristo himself) express an impatience at having to sit through such lengthy dialogue. I happen to find this much less tedious than it sounds.

I won’t discuss much of the plot, since this is my first time reading the novel and I’ve heard so little about what happens it’s like I’m coming at it completely fresh. At times I worried that some of the seemingly minor subplots would detract from the story, as they appeared completely unrelated to the primary story of Edmund Dantes and his sought after revenge for his years in prison. Being as far in as I am now, I can see that every detail Dumas has added throughout the early parts of the novel have been very carefully chosen and are beginning to contribute crucially to the main progression of the work. The result is that of an incredibly intricate plot that develops in surprising ways as one reads; definitely a positive.

The presentation of the Count of Monte Cristo as a mysterious character with a long and exotic history does a great job of maintaining my interest in the book. Like I’ve said, a long tomb with dense sections in which one can, at times, feel lost will likely end up back on the shelf before it can be finished, but I’ve become so tied to the revenge story that I cannot put the book down. I have to know what happens to Dantes and how his tireless work of creating an intriguing alter ego turns out. I’m not often invested to this degree in a character and it’s a credit to Dumas that he can achieve this kind of interest in such a long novel.

This is not meant to serve as a review, but merely a couple of rambling thoughts on my part as I read through the book. I may pop back with more as the “plot thickens”.

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