Hi, remember when our book club discussion for this book was December 1st but I didn’t finish the book until January 23rd? And also how I’ve been reading it since November 13th? Because I do. I definitely remember all of that.
Ultimately, I’m really glad I did the audio version of this book. I don’t think I could have finished it otherwise. I previously got about 1/3 of the way through this book when I tried reading it in high school, but it defeated me then. The beginning 20% or so, as well as the last 30% this time were riveting. I would make excuses to listen. But then came, as Katie/faintingviolet calls it, The Paris Purgatory. More on this later. Also hugely of help was crystalclear’s review, with its life-saving chapter by chapter breakdown. I had it open on my phone in Safari for months as I made my way through the book, clarifying stuff my mind wandered on or misunderstood. So, thank you crystalclear. For serious. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book this long that didn’t have some element of fantasy in it. I should probably do it more often.
Anyways, THIS BOOK WAS REALLY GOOD AND ULTIMATELY WORTH IT.
(Wanted to put that in all caps in case it’s the only things you take away from this review.)
In case you are reading this review and are somehow unaware of the plot of this extremely famous and written-almost-two-hundred-years-ago book, The Count of Monte Cristo is a serialized novel written over the course of 1844-1845, which follows Edmond Dantès, a young sailor who is unfairly imprisoned, and whose life is ruined. When he escapes from prison and becomes the owner of a fabulous fortune, he spends years of his life educating himself, building influence, and preparing his very elaborate revenge on the four men responsible for his imprisonment and suffering.
This book has a sprawling cast of characters, impeccable plotting, and moments that punch you in the gut. The scenes in the prison are still my favorite. There’s something indelible about Dantès imprisonment, his despair and loneliness, and the companionship and rewards for his suffering that he ultimately finds there, as well as the human kindness he and the Abbe Faria provide for one another. Once Dantès is out and in possession of his fortune and finished saving the lives of his former employer and his family, however, things got a tiny bit dodgy for me. Dantès/Monte Cristo is absolutely pathological in his methods of vengeance, and it sometimes takes hundreds and hundreds of pages of set-up before you understand why that scene in that one place between those two people were necessary. My interest in the book flagged for a good while there in the middle, just because I couldn’t see where it was going.
I’m of two minds about this middle part. On the one hand, I think this is a book that needs to be long. You need to have spent time and emotion on these characters in order to really feel the ending. On the other, I think it went a bit too far. The circumstances the book were published in are inescapable, and very different to how books are published now. I’m endlessly fascinated by serialized novels from the 1800s, and how that serialization affected the story. This isn’t a story meant to be read in a short period of time, but one designed to be doled out over the course of a year in increments, like a serialized TV show before the era of binge-watching. I can see how both the author (who was probably paid by the word) and the readers, both, would have liked longer installments, if it meant waiting for weeks for the next part of the story.
I’m also a fan of the ending of this book. I was worried that Monte Cristo’s quest for vengeance would turn him into a monster, and he would never find his humanity again. If that had been the case, this would have been a very different review. What’s great about this book is that it allows Dantès room for his anger and vengeance, but it also lets him renounce that vengeance (to a certain extent), and to feel the regret his own cruelty at destroying lives has caused.
It’s probably going to be a while before I pick up another Dumas or long classic (I’ve got my sights set on Les Miserables and/or The Three Musketeers next), but I’m really glad we ended up picking this book for #CannonBookClub. I’m not sure I would have ever gotten around to trying it again otherwise.