(DOUBLE BINGO – corners and center, top left to bottom right
I think the reason that this reworking of The Count of Monte Cristo works so well is because (at least per the afterword) Stephen Fry didn’t realize he was adapting the book until midway through writing it, thinking he was only writing a tale of the utter devastation of an innocent man and his revenge against those who had wronged him once he recovered from rock bottom. I tend to believe this as I’ve done similar things – the unwitting plagiarism of having a good idea and realizing once you’ve built off of it that the structure is so solid because someone else created it first – but once Fry recognized the parallels he must have leaned into them HARD.
It starts off in epistolary form, with the first few chapters being the love letters between Ned and Portia, and the diary entries of Ashley, the jealous classmate who initiates Ned’s downfall. We have IRA separatists in place of the French revolutionaries of the original, and an insane asylum in place of jail. I have to confess my memory of the original is fading, so I can’t remember what Edmond Dantes claimed his fortune came from, but here he uses the dot com boom to explain his inheritance from his mentor.
One advantage to this being in a more modern setting (which is actually not all that modern – it’s quaint reading how Ned as Simon posits himself as a media giant by web development and buying up newspapers) is that the loss of Ned’s twenty years feels more dramatic. The difference between 1830 and 1850 feels insignificant to a modern reader not only due to the distance of those dates, but also because the rate of change in technological progress has sped exponentially faster – from the mid 1980s to the early 2000s the world changed immensely, and Ned is basically a time traveler to the modern world, unprepared for cell phones, internet, globalism, but ready to exploit them all to serve his single goal – revenge against those who wronged him.
The book lends itself to the improbable – much of Ned’s revenge is awfully convenient and hinges upon coincidences, people behaving predictably, and at times idiotically – with the punishment not fitting the crime (but again, we’re adapting from the Count of Monte Cristo, so this out of proportion response is in keeping with the moral that revenge destroys the soul) but on the whole this was an enjoyable read.
Extra half star for having been written by Stephen Fry, whom I love and want good things for.