The Count of Monte-Cristo

Note: I tried my best to avoid spoilers.  When I picked this book up, I knew so little about it that the premise was a spoiler.  I tried to be careful.

In case you’ve not picked up on some subtle hints, I love reading.  In fact, to quote a favorite author (I think – I follow so many blogs, I can’t remember precisely who said it), I generally feel like I could do more easily without air than without books.

I decided to challenge myself this last week.  I’ve never read The Count of Monte-Cristo before, but I grew up hearing about how great it is.  I’ve always wanted to read it, but I’ve also always been intimidated by it.  It’s huge. I don’t believe Alexandre Dumas ever heard the words “short story.”  About a week ago, I decided to tackle it.

Wow.

Other words Alexandre Dumas never heard?  Average, simple, predictable, and dull.

All right, I admit it.  I had a hard time in the middle.  But that’s mostly because the beginning fascinated me, and the middle seemed unrelated until I added a few things together.  Even then, I had trouble getting engaged in reading.  Want to know why?

I was too eager for the ending.

The middle’s good, don’t get me wrong.  But it’s the ending I really wanted to read – and it goes against the grain to peek at the back of the book before reading the rest.  I hate  – hate – spoilers.

I think the middle will be easier to read, now that I know how it ends, and how everything fits together.

But this post isn’t meant to discuss how easily I read it.  The point is that it was well worth the patience.

What was so great about it? You have to ask?

It’s a revenge story.  And it’s not just relevant to the characters.  It forces you to think about where you’d draw the line.

If someone ruins your life – not just physically, but he tarnishes your reputation beyond recovery and makes you lose the best years of your life – what would you do about it?  Particularly if the person responsible is your friend – or at least someone you trust.  When you realize what he did – knowingly, deliberately, maliciously – would you strike back?  And if you do, how far do you go?

This question plagued me for the first half of the book.  I’m still trying to wrap my mind about it.  I generally try to be the forgiving type – but this?  I can’t find it in me to blame the Count for wanting vengeance.

The men responsible?  I can understand why they do what they do.  I can sympathize a little, even – not much, mind.  That doesn’t make anything they do right, though.  I can understand why someone would choose a course without condoning that choice.

What really hurts is how close Edmond is at the beginning.  He has everything he wants in life.  He has his happily-ever-after.  Even when things begin to look bad, there still seems to be hope.  He’s so close to getting his happily-ever-after back, to just having a rough experience that he could laugh about a month later, that the reader can feel just how nightmarish it is when simple chance throws everything down the drain.  I can’t speak for all readers, but I really like happy endings.  Even when I knew what was going to happen, I kept hoping Dumas would pull a trick out of his proverbial hat.  I kept hoping – which made it all the worse when hope was completely crushed.

And by then, readers know just how fundamentally good Edmond Dantes is – which makes this change in fortune as bewildering for the reader as for the character, even though we already know all the who‘s and why‘s.

Which brings us to the question:  What would you do if you learned who stole you away from your life thus, if you had the opportunity?

Is revenge worth your humanity?  Can you still be yourself if you retaliate?  Or must you lose the best parts of yourself in gaining revenge?

And – regardless of what the Count of Monte-Cristo feels – is it really worth it?

I know this much.  I’m nowhere near as patient as the Count.  If I made the same resolutions, I wouldn’t be able to wait so long to fulfill them.

Of course, that would probably end up with me being caught and returned to prison.  Which is probably why he waited.  Yet another reason I’m glad I’m not some storybook character….

P.S. If you enjoy the book (and even if you don’t) I highly recommend the songs from the musical.  I haven’t heard them all, but the ones I have heard are exceptional.  They portray exactly how the characters feel during that time in the book.  There were a few songs I wanted desperately to listen to early in the reading process – but I held off just long enough to keep them from spoiling the plot developments.  When I did listen to them, they blew me away – there’s something about music that can just flavor a character, and it’s not something an author can do.  It’s all about the lyrics, the music, and the way they interact.


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