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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas, Reviewed

I read this classic on my Kindle whilst holidaying in Paris and the South of France, which proved serendipitous, as the bulk of the action takes place in these two locations. In fact, I recognised many of the places referred to in the book, as I toured.

A great tome of a read, it gripped me from the start and held my attention throughout, in spite of the often flowery descriptive prose, authorial intrusion and sometimes obtuse classical references.

Dumas draws the central character, Edmond Dantes, later the eponymous count, with a fine and sympathetic pen. The young man’s utter innocence is beautifully depicted as is his fall through bad luck into catastrophe. But his rise from near death and subsequent search for justice and revenge, acting as an agent of God, is sublime writing.

The author is, of course, writing his fable in France close to the time of Napoleon and his rise, fall and regaining of power. The Catholic faith is a deep and constant influence on the actions, thoughts and emotions of the novel’s characters. It is also a profound driver of the author’s philosophy and is often a subtle enough influence to deceive the writer into a false impression of his own impartiality.

The language is, of course, picturesque, detailed and full of allusion, as you would expect of a novel written in and for an age when readers had more leisure time and actively sought such full narrative form. Dumas often uses fifteen words where today’s readers would be content with four.

But the narrative fits the action, the period and the characters. This is deservedly a literary classic and those whose experience of the tale is limited to the distortions of Hollywood and the many adaptations (I except the brilliant 13 part series produced by BBC TV in the 1960s) will be unaware of the great humour and satire displayed by the written text.

This fable of man’s desire to usurp the role of Fate, God, or whatever other disinterested mechanism for corrective justice you envisage, is not an easy read. But it rewards the attentive reader with its ready exposure of both the dark and lighter side of human behaviour. It explains aspects of history, particularly French history, which might otherwise remain obscure. And it deals with ideas, themes and philosophies that might be imagined more modern than they are in fact.

I happily recommend this book, well aware that its length and content may make it appear too daunting to those modern readers reluctant to venture beyond the boundaries of the genre with which they are comfortable and familiar. Should you get the opportunity to read this, I urge you to do so. You won’t be disappointed.

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