Saturday, 10 April 2010

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (1845)

If revenge is a dish best served cold, then Edmond Dantes is the master chef of frozen meals.

It's France 1815, and all is going well for the young, likable Dantes. He is deeply admired by his employer, the wealthy merchant Morrel. Dantes is on the verge of being appointed Captain of his own ship. He's also about to marry Mercedes, the love of his life.

But evil lurks everywhere, and Dantes is betrayed by three men. Danglars wants Dantes out of the way so that he can become Captain. Fernand wants Dantes out of the way because he's lusting after Mercedes. And de Villefort wants Dantes out of the way to protect his political career. Despite Morrel's best efforts, the three men conspire to throw Dantes into the merciless dungeon prison of Chateau D'If.

Close to despair and wishing for death, Dantes meets and befriends a fellow prisoner, the elderly Abbe Faria. Faria not only completes Dantes' education, he reveals to him the secret of an immense ancient treasure buried on the secluded island of Monte Cristo.

After fourteen years in the dungeon, Dantes seizes the opportunity of Faria's death to engineer his escape. He retrieves the treasure and uses his new found wealth to re-invent himself as the Count of Monte Cristo. He then gets down to the business of plotting his revenge on the three men who conspired against him.

The above summary covers the first 150 pages or so of a 600-page story -- and the 600 pages represent an abridgement of Alexandre Dumas' original serialization. To call The Count of Monte Cristo an epic would be an insult to the length of this saga. But the freewheeling, rip-roaring action rarely slows down, and it is impossible to resist the urge of knowing what the suave Count will do next in his irresistible quest for revenge.

The post-prison bulk of the book comes alive with the introduction of a wide range of colourful characters: Danglars, Fernand and de Villefort have all accumulated wealth, titles, spouses, children, estates, servants, power, friends, and businesses. Into their Parisian world of ill-earned nobility enters the mysterious Count, weaving elaborate traps that will inevitably result in the delicious downfall of the three men and all they pretend to love.

How much of Dantes' soul will also be destroyed as he destroys his enemies, and sometimes unintended victims, is part of the emotional impact of the book.

The Count of Monte Cristo, particularly in translation, is no literary classic. The language is simple, straightforward, and carries the sole intent of delivering the action.

The power of the book is derived from the undisguised quest for revenge, and the fantasy of unexpected immense wealth creating the opportunity to right all of life's wrongs.

With his combination of intellect, wealth, sophistication, and sense of justice, the Count of Monte Cristo is a most entertaining and welcome dinner guest.

Published by Barnes & Noble Classics.
Translated and abridged.
Introduction and Notes by Luc Sante.
618 pages, plus Notes.

The Ace Black Blog Book Review No. 38.
The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

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