Minor spoilers in this post.
Wow, okay, so I’m pretty sure that, at just under 1500 pages, this is the longest book I have ever read. In any case it’s definitely the book that it’s taken me longest to read. Due to extenuating circumstances, like a busy schedule and having to return the book to the library and wait several weeks to get it out again, it took me just over two months to finish The Count of Monte Cristo. Even as long as it is it wouldn’t have taken me nearly as long to read it except that it is a really dense book, not the kind of thing I could typically sit and read for hours on end, but something that I’d read a few chapters at a time and then put it down and do something else for a while. That being said, this is the best book I’ve read in a long time.
Where to even start? There is so much going on in this book that there’s no way I’m going to be able to talk about even half the things I have to say about it. To begin with, the structure of the story was pretty amazing. It takes place over many years, 25 or so I believe, and during this long period of time Alexander Dumas tells a lot of stories. The main character is Edmond Dantes, otherwise known as the Count of Monte Cristo, and the story follows Edmund from when he is an innocent youth on the verge of promotion and marriage, through his false imprisonment, all the way to the end of his quest for vengeance on those who wronged him. Although the story follows Edmund through his various trials and projects, the story is really “about” so much more.
Revolving around Edmund throughout the novel are the stories of many other characters. There are stories within stories within stories in this novel, and yet all of it eventually relates back to Edmund and his quest. The way I think of it is that he’s the linchpin that is keeping it all together, and it is truly an amazing structure for a novel. We get to see so many different people, their circumstances, their history, and yet none of it is superfluous. In the end everything leads back to the Count and all of his plots, plans, and schemes. Just the structure of this complex web of characters and stories and the way it all relates and comes together in the end would be enough to fill half a dozen blog posts or more, but I will restrain myself, not least because the book would not have been half so good without the constant exciting discovery of how everything fits together.
I loved the characters in the book, particularly Edmund Dantes/the Count. From the very first chapters I found myself thinking how intricate the characters were. Everyone has their own plans, their own motives, and Dumas somehow manages to show it all without the reader ever feeling overloaded with too much information. I found the characters believable and engaging, and even the seemingly most minor characters were superbly put together. No one was black and white, and, although everyone served a purpose, not one character felt to me as if they’d been hastily thrown together just to fit a needed role.
One of the best things in this novel, and something that I would love to discus at length, is the moral ambiguity. There are, of course, characters who are clearly good and characters that are clearly bad, but the most interesting characters are much harder to place. The best example of this is the Count himself. I won’t give away to much but the biggest question is whether Edmund Dantes was justified in pursuing his long crusade to get revenge on his enemies. Certainly those who wronged him deserved to be punished for what they had done, but was he right in taking the law into his own hands and the things he does, the plans he sets in motion, to orchestrate their downfall? This question gets even more interesting if you look at how the novel ends (which I won’t talk about here because I refuse to spoil such a good book).
In case all the praise I’ve just heaped on it wasn’t clear enough I would absolutely rate The Count of Monte Cristo a 5/5, and I highly, highly recommend reading it. It is a commitment though, definitely not the book to pick up if you want a quick, light read, but if you give it a try you won’t regret it.