Monday, October 26, 2020

60. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (Robin Buss translation)

Found this hefty tome in one of those neighbourhood free shelves.  I had been wanting to read it since I saw the Jim Cazaviel movie (actually before that, but the movie cemented it from a fancy to a determination) and was happy to find this nice Penguin edition.  It turns out to be the most recent (and possibly most complete) translation in English.  I could probably have read it in french, but only if I were myself imprisoned in the Chateau d'If for 14 years.  As it was, the english edition of 1,243 pages took me almost 3 weeks!  

As the translator states in the introduction, Count of Monte Cristo is one of those books that was so popular that almost everybody knows something about it, without actually knowing it all.  The basic story is so compelling, that its impact is felt without needing the entire text (and reinforced by past incomplete translations and the many TV, movie and theatre adaptations).  I myself had a few misconceptions.  I was trying to figure out why it was so long, when he gets out of the prison within the first 200 pages.  The parts that I was most interested in, the endless training and self-improvement montage, are actually quite curtailed and even absent from the book.  He does educate himself mentally and gets a bit of aristocratic bearing while in prison, but the origins of all the combat skills, poisons, finance and the myriad other abilities that make him almost god-like are never explained beyond that he spent ten years in "the orient".  Much of the book is the more complicated narratives of the social and political lives of the families of the men upon whom he is seeking revenge and the slow, delicious unraveling of the count's revenge plot.

I got a bit confused in the early part of that, with several daughter's and wives who at first are not well distinguished as characters.  As the plot moves forward, though, and things get stickier, I figured it all out.  It's a real page-turner.  You can imagine when it was serialized how people would have awaited anxiously for the next chapter.  A lot of shit goes down and it gets quite dark and nasty.  There is even a cool lesbian cross-dressing escape from the constraints of Parisian aristocratic society.  I have to say, as well, the French really were fucking bonkers.  Their class system and its obsession with shame and duelling and all that really do make the 19th century British seem kind of staid and boring.  I guess the revolution and all the turmoil that followed it contributed to that.  This book definitely made me want to better understand that period of history.  It's just so complicated, Jesus, with so many revolutions and restorations and everything open to interpretation of the time.  No wonder historians still argue about it today.

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