The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
If there’s anything harder than reading a book as giant as The Count of Monte Cristo, it’s writing about it. Where do you begin, precisely? With the protagonist himself, who becomes more and more of an enigma as the plot progresses? With the reason for his revenge, a woman who, oddly, seems to become beside the point as the plot unfolds? With the younger people, who suffer as a result of acts carried out a decade before they were even born?
Perhaps all I can do is give you a brief summary and tell you to read it. A young sailor named Edmond Dantes arrives in Marseilles from a long sea voyage, bent on marrying his fiancee and starting life as the captain of his own ship. Unfortunately, there’s a man who wants to marry his fiancee, another who wants to prevent him from taking over the ship, and another one who is just a terrible person. These three conspire to frame Edmond for a horrible crime, which he’s convicted of after the prosecutor discovers that setting Edmond free would actually implicate the prosecutor’s own father in a crime.
So Edmond is sent to prison for 14 years for a crime he not only didn’t commit, but doesn’t understand. Through a long chain of events, he is able to learn several languages, escape, obtain a huge fortune and set off for distant lands, slowly crafting his persona of The Count of Monte Cristo.
Once his persona is in place, he sets out to avenge himself on these four men. There are, as one might imagine, a number of subplots involving Italian bandits, runaway daughters, forbidden love, exciting, narrowly averted duels, and faked deaths. Oh! And hidden identities, of course, in addition to Monte Cristo.
This is a work in translation, and I was lucky to find a good one. I was also lucky to find what I would call a “non-academic” version without distracting footnotes and citations. As a result, I was able to digest this work the way I imagine Dumas’ original readers did — quickly, fluidly, pulled along by the story and dying to know what happens next.
I can’t say a lot without absolutely spoiling everything, but in short, do not be intimidated by the length of this book — it is spellbinding from the first page to the 1462nd.