“It’s necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live.”
Rating: 5 stars. 10 stars. As many stars as I can possibly give this magnificent book.
I don’t know where to start with this review. If anyone is looking for a copy of the Count of Monte Cristo to read, look no further than Robin Buss’ masterful translation that made a hefty book a delight to read. (And please don’t read an abridgement, it’s worth every one of the 1200 pages.)
I haven’t marked this review as a spoiler because I haven’t necessarily discussed specific aspects of plot, but I do talk vaguely about a few characters and about the Count of Monte Cristo’s motivations so read at your own risk.
I started this book expecting a wild adventurous revenge story, describing it as a book where one who was falsely accused of a crime ‘gets out, gets rich and gets even’. While that’s true, and while this book certainly was a wild, adventurous revenge story, the impression I’m left with is so much more than that. At it’s core, The Count of Monte Cristo is a story about a man who’s life was stolen from him, and who dedicated his remaining existence to exacting revenge upon those who were responsible. But at the end of it all, there is a profound sense of joy and happiness, not at successful revenge but at the rediscovery of a happiness and life that Monsieur le Comte thought he’d lost. Dumas wrote that “All human wisdom is contained in these two words – Wait and Hope” and I think that that will stay with me for an awfully long time. It’s absolutely not overstating things to say that I have a new favourite book, and will be inflicting this 1200 page beast of a book on everyone and anyone I can convince to read it.
I am usually a little hesitant to read classical novels, not because I don’t enjoy them but because I often find them dense and slow to read, and compared to my usual easily consumed fare of YA fantasy novels, they require a significant amount of focus and attention. Despite that, I was engaged in this novel from the very first page, because Dumas doesn’t waste a single word. Every line is absolutely essential, and if it doesn’t seem so, then you simply haven’t read far enough to see the significance, because Dumas, and Dantès, is always ten years ahead, not just ten steps. I thought that this would take me a long time to get through, but instead I found myself waking up at 6am, so that I could get in two hours of reading before I had to leave for work, and skipping out on running errands on my lunch break so I could sit in our break room and devour another fifty pages.
Dantès is a delight of a main character, lovable and kindhearted at the start and cold and bitter after his incarceration, but utterly addictive to read about. Dumas fed information in little hints and sly comments that let you see just how far ahead Dantès had planned and worked for his revenge, when characters would cite Abbé Busoni or Lord Wilmore in seemingly insignificant friends and Monte Cristo would mention them as friends, while he and the reader know full well that they were one of many, many alter-egos that Monte Cristo had developed. Dantès plan was an inconcievably huge web built on so many factors and secrets and carefully planned reveals, and every time Dumas revealed how a character was significant, or how they would play their part in the downfall of Danglars, Fernand and Villefort, I would honestly gasp out loud like I was watching some kind of TV drama. I will definitely read this book again, and I intend to watch one or more of the movie interpretations at some point, but I’ll never quite get the same sense of desperate need to find out what happened next, or the feel of pure shock at some of the reveals Dumas had waiting. I think if a genie offered me a wish right now, I’d forget this book so I could read it for the first time all over again.
Dantès plan wasn’t harmless, and what he was doing wasn’t even necessarily right, but it was understandable, and when I finished the novel, I couldn’t help but note that most, if not all, of his plans were built on the actions of his “victims”. They dug their graves, and the Count of Monte Cristo was just waiting for the opportunity to push them in. Innocents were punished just as often as the criminals, but the last few hundred pages did show a beautiful development in the Count’s character, as he learned from Albert and Mercédès, and particularly Morrel and Valentine that it wasn’t always right to punish a child for the sins of their fathers.
Effectively, I think I could talk about this book all day, and I might come back to this review once the book-hangover fades and I’ve thought about some of the other aspects I loved so dearly, but I’m risking getting a ludicrously long review. In short, read this book.
Note: This review was copied verbatim from my Goodreads account dated May 21st 2019.