A review of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

I packed my list with a good bit of 19th century pop fiction, and I did this partly to have some light reading to balance out all the heavy. And this week, while on vacation and looking for some pool-side reading, I took advantage of this foresight to set aside The Federalist for The Count of Monte Cristo, which turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable page turner that I tore through in two days. It is always a distinct pleasure to find the book you can’t put down, and it’s proving to be a rare but welcome exception in this project.

I knew the story of the book by reading the dust jacket, good guy is wronged by several men and sent to prison for many year, after which he escapes, recovers a fabulous treasure, and uses is to exact revenge. And that’s pretty much that. I’ve never been a fan of the revenge movie genre, and have tended to resent when entertainments create an easy villain to hate just to deliver a cheap satisfaction when they get their due. But I was right there with Dumas and the count throughout this book, and I eagerly looked forward to the most severe punishments for these scoundrels—if anything I was a bit let down that the scenarios weren’t more extravagant than they were.

 

My only complaint about the book was that by the end there were so many characters to keep track of that I was often turning back to the book’s helpful, 3-page list of characters, just to keep them all straight. There were the original villains, two of whom took on titles and one of whom changed his name entirely, and then there were their various children and their acquaintances, plus a good guy from the old days and all of his children, all of whom have relationships with one another. Throw in some Italian princes and self-righteous physicians, and you have your hands full keeping it all straight. Happily, the revenge plots were not too intricate, and a little confusion here and there about who was doing what to whom didn’t end up slowing my down.

My only critical commentary is to note that the crime that our antagonist is sent to prison for by his enemies is one for which he is certainly guilty. Our protagonist is a seaman who assumes command when his captain falls ill and dies, and among other things he carries out the captain’s final order, which is to deliver a letter to Napoleon exiled on the isle of Elba, and then subsequently he agrees to take a response from Bonaparte to some guy in Paris he has never met. Now, our simple protagonist is ignorant of the import of these communications, but that doesn’t absolve him from being a servant of an enemy of the Crown, which is what he is ultimately sent to prison for. His enemies use this communication to have him sent away, but all of his vows of innocence rang pretty flat for me, and while he certainly had a beef with the fellows who ratted him out he had a fair bit of the blame to bear himself, in this reader’s view.

 

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