Saturday 3 July 2010

REVIEW: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (5*)

(Penguin Classics, 2003), translated by Robin Buss

Firstly, a quick note on this edition: having started an old, archaic and atrocious translation to begin with, I can heartily recommend the crystal prose of Robin Buss's translation for Penguin Classics... The difference was startling, and it made it an absolute joy to read where it could so easily have become a chore!

Now, this is going to be a tricky one to review. What to say about a book so well loved, so widely read, so generally revered? Well, let's start with the basics, the bits most people already know. The novel opens with young Edmond Dantes, on the verge of becoming captain of his merchant ship and husband of the beautiful Mercedes, being betrayed by his jealous friends and thrown into jail for his alleged support of Napoleon. During his fourteen years in the terrifying Chateau d'If, he meets a 'mad' old abbe, who introduces him to the world of learning and tells him about a secret treasure that he wishes Edmond to have should he ever escape. Well, escape he does, and is reborn as the Count of Monte Cristo, using his incredible wealth, power and intelligence to bring justice down on the heads of the three men who condemned him to the dungeons.

This book is so many things: it is epic, complex and exciting; it is heartbreaking, sorrowful and romantic. It touches on the heights of emotion, society and the human condition, as well as the depths of despair, corruption and depravity. I found myself speeding along in breathless excitement as Edmond's true identity was revealed to each of
his tormentors, and felt the full horror of the tangled webs he wove to destroy them one by one. It made me ponder the relationship between wealth and power, between knowledge and power, and the way that faith can save someone's life but also, if they don't take care, lead them down a path swathed in darkness. The Count's lesson for jealous Danglars, for example, was deeply satisfying - whereas his quiet destruction of Villefort's entire family was devastating to read. Of course, all this is terribly unlikely and deeply dramatic, but that is part of its charm - this is escapism at its finest!

Quite simply, this is a masterful novel that drew me in gently then refused to let me go. The characters are wonderfully drawn - I even got a bit of a crush on Dantes, fallen angel that he is - and the story seeps forward deliciously, bringing everything slowly into focus as the scattered elements of the Count's plans draw together. This is definitely going to be one of my top reads of the year and one of my favourite books ever! Read it!

  • "... preferring death a thousand times to arrest, I accomplished astonishing feats which, more than once, proved to me that our excessive concern with the welfare of our bodies is almost the only obstacle to the success of any of our plans... In reality, once you have made the sacrifice of your life, you are no longer the equal of other men; or, rather, they are no longer your equal, because whoever has taken such a resolution instantly feels his strength increase ten times and his outlook vastly extended."
  • "Truly generous men are always ready to feel compassion when their enemy's misfortune exceeds the bounds of their hatred."
  • "All human wisdom is contained in these two words: 'wait' and 'hope'!"

Source: I bought this book from an Amazon Marketplace seller.