Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

"But he isn't dead?"

"No, he isn't, as you can very well see. Instead of striking him between the sixth and seventh left rib, as your compatriots usually do, you must have struck higher or lower; and these lawyers, you know, are not easy to kill off. Either that or else everything you told me is untrue, a product of your imagination, a hallucination of the mind. Perhaps you fell asleep while inadequately digesting your revenge. It weighed down on your stomach and you had a nightmare nothing more."

Like Edmond Dantes plunged into the depths of the Chateau D'if, trapped for fourteen years, I plunged into the depths of this 1,200 page novel, unable to blog (for lack of finishing books). And, like Mr. Dantes, who waited and hoped until he escaped, I eventually escaped myself, ready to re-enter society.

This is the third time I've read this novel; and fourth if you count reading the abridged version in high school. I (obviously) enjoy reading this novel, and, apparently, on a long enough timeline will return to it. This is, a bit surprising. As the translator noted in her introduction, this novel--though universally recognized as entertaining--is not considered literary. And it would not be unfair to accuse this book of being a simple page-turner. Unsophisticated writing; easy characters; plot devices that are almost too convenient (not to mention the awkward racism/sexism common to books from earlier epochs).

Some adaptations, unfortunately
were not as good as others.
Nonetheless, I am drawn to this story. There is a very short list of books I've read so many times, and no books this long that I would even consider re-reading. And I am not the only one drawn to this novel. It has about a million adaptations (including a rather good anime version). I know no one who dislikes the novel.

But why? What is special about it?

Two explanations make sense to me: the plot may sometimes feel too convenient, but it's also very well thought out. Dumas characterizes the major players early and is faithful to these characterizations throughout--with the one possible exception being Dantes himself, who undergoes two major transformations throughout the novel. But, even the changes of Dantes contribute to the quality of the plot. Thus, I would suggest the plot seems convenient, but is actually thoroughly planned. In this regard, I think the plot's ostensible simplicity is in some ways an illusion. One can read the plot as simple, or one can read the plot as being layered.

The other explanation is that this is a righteous revenge tale. Thus, it is satisfying at a fundamental level. I think readers (myself included) love that the villains get theirs, and get it slowly and painfully.

This looks awesome.
One last thought, because, as I said, there are very few novels I've read so many times. It has consistently been a strange experience for me to read a novel in my late 20s or early 30s that I originally read as a teenager or as a person in his early-20s. This was particularly so for this novel. This reading was the first time I noticed how...unsophisticated the writing is. I managed to read this novel three times without noticing that one of the major characters is a lesbian (even though in one late scene, this character is found in a bed with her ostensible girlfriend). This was also the first time I read the novel and considered how much of a jerk the Count is. This adds to my sense that one is never really finished reading any novel. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who wants to spend 1,200 pages reading something very, very fun, with interesting things happening in terms of plot structure.

This book also has one of my favorite closing thoughts, which perfectly accomplishes what the last page should accomplish: represent what the entire novel is about.
So, do live and be happy, children dear to my heart, and never forget that, until the day when God deigns to unveil the future to mankind, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: 'wait' and hope'!
Indeed, Count. Indeed.

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