They broke the mold after Dumas wrote “The Count of Monte Cristo.” There will never be a revenge plot as ambitious, as smooth, as Rube Goldbergian, as violent, as tense, or as passionate as this. This is the Ur Revenge Plot.
I devoured this book. Inhaled it. And it’s partly because my brain melted a bit after the election, and then I was doggedly rebuilding my spirits with Solnit’s “Hope in the Dark” (TBR) (GET OFF MY BACK), and then it was Thanksgiving, and I do a whole thing, because Thanksgiving is my Superbowl. Whatever. Anyway, I started on Saturday afternoon, and finished it just in the nick of time…. half an hour ago (it’s Wednesday night at 11:50pm as I start this, and Thursday is Book Club Day). It’s long, and intense, and if it hadn’t been so goddamned glorious, I couldn’t have done it. But it’s a book that’s breathtaking in scope, and stunningly told.
Now, granted, this could have been my translation, but unless Robin Buss took major creative liberties, I really feel like the credit is due to Dumas for painting every scene as magnificently as he does. From the locations, to the wardrobe, to the expressions on anyone’s face in any given moment, it’s practically cinematic, and totally epic. I mean:
Bit by bit, the sun, whose last rays we were describing, fell below the western horizon; but, as though confirming the brilliant fantasies of mythology, its prying flames reappeared at the crest of every wave as if to reveal that the god of fire had just hidden his face in the bosom of Amphitrite, who tried in vain to hide her lover in the folds of her azure robe.
You know what I mean?
Meanwhile, it’s really tight thematically, too. The umbrella of Dantés’ tribulations and revenge plot hold room for the trials and upsets lived by almost everyone else in the novel. I lost count of the number of characters who felt wronged and pursued revenges of their own. But The Count folded them all into his own plot; he plays a longer and more detailed game than any of them. As a friend of mine likes to say “he’s playing 3D chess, but they don’t even know there’s more than one board.”
It’s also pretty interesting how much of a struggle he has with his own faith, considering the presumption of religion in the book, and of the time. It’s very humanizing, which is useful to balance all the “avenging angel” imagery.
I will grant you, seen through the modern lens, there are some failings. Women are mostly sidelined, and fragile and frail and so on and so forth, though I loved this moment: “His colleagues were looking at him and, no doubt, pitying this greatness that had been blown away by the scented breath of a woman.” There’s a whole bunch of fabulous coincidence. No one has ever been such an exceptional master of disguise (OR HAVE THEY?). I could complain about some stuff. But I forgive all of it, for the action, adventure, anxiety-inducement, and ascendancy.
Way to nail it, Alexandre.