I think that one of the things which makes a book a classic is the ability to read it all over again and have it feel like it is your first visit. The Count of Monte Cristo was just such a book for me. It has been some twenty odd years since Dumas and I spent time together, and while I remembered most of the highlights, the many subtle shifts and machinations of plot and character felt absolutely fresh and new.
This, credited by many to be Dumas’ masterpiece, was for me a page turner as I read in anticipation of those culminating moments which make the novel so memorable. I remembered the main theme of revenge which provides the motivation in the plot as Edmond Dantes reinvents himself as the Count of Monte Cristo and seeks vengeance for the injustice done him. There were two elements which I had forgotten, the first of which was the foil of goodness that shows the other, softer, side of a character who might otherwise be overcome by hatred and thus an ugly, unlikeable personage. The second was an element which didn’t come into play until the end of the novel, when Edmond begins to question whether or not his vengeance was sanctioned by God or not and whether the good that he has done will ultimately weigh in balance with his revenge.
The characters in the novel are amazing. I do not think I have ever seen a better example of clear character development than that of Edmond Dantes as he becomes the Count. In addition, despite the length of the novel, the total number of characters is quite manageable, giving ample time for each to be well realized and the reader ease in keeping the cast straight.
As with all books which I read in translation, I would like to say a word about the edition which I chose. After a good deal of research, and despite owning a alternate copy in both print and ebook, I settled on Penguin’s newer work by Robin Buss. Mr. Buss stated in his introduction that he believes that the translator’s job is to convey the flavor of the novel in readable prose, as opposed to a word for word rendering which fails to give the reader a sense of what it feels like to read the author’s own writing in his original language. I do not read French and therefore can not attest to how well he succeeds in his intention, but I can say that this is a beautifully written translation which never felt choppy or gave me the feeling that I was not reading in the language in which the book was originally written.
Yes, at 1,152 pages the book is a commitment, but I would highly recommend it for three reasons. It is a masterpiece of plotting and therefore just plain fun to read and, second, it will bring alive the culture of France in the early 19th century like few other works. Finally, Dumas, in addition to being a literary craftsman, is also very witty, which comes through in his snappy dialog. Unless you are a reader who dislikes long, well developed novels-I realize there are many who simply find them a drudge-I cannot recommend this one highly enough.