Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

I read this book for two reasons. The first being that as a child, I thought the title sounded interesting, but nearly keeled over when I saw the shear size of the book. The second is because a friend told me I would like it. Oh yes, and a third reason is that I used an Audible credit to buy it and 48 hours of book is a lot of book for one credit (yeah, good reason, I know).

I was a little worried that it would be one of those depressing ones where the suffering is never ending. Fortunately, Dumas didn’t let that part of the book go one for too long. There were also several features of the story that helped sidetrack one from the misery of the situation. - Just thinking of rotting in jail for all of those years is bad enough. I can’t imagine living through them. It’s horrible to think that things like this did actually happen. Guilty or not guilty, some things just shouldn’t be allowed. –

The second “part” of the story returns Dantés to life outside of the Château D’Ife and fortune seems to be making up for all his years of misery. However, simply returning to life was really not enough for Dantés and he is provided with the means to both reward his friends for their faithfulness and punish his enemies for their evil acts against him. What seems quite natural, leaves quite a lot of room for discussions of morality. Is revenge evil? If not, how far is too far? Dantés often seems like he’s teetering on the edge of a moral downfall which would ultimately put him on the same level as his persecutors. Even though he’s the hero of the story and the reader’s sympathies are directed towards him, he often reaches a point where he is about to lose respect rather than gain it. In some instances, he actually does lose my respect, e.g. when he believes he is justified in allowing all of Villefort’s family to be poisoned. Yes, he is punishing Villefort, but should a Valentine or her brother, who has yet to prove his ultimate worth as a human, or the completely innocent Sante-Mérans, be allowed to die for Dantés revenge? Granted, his father did die of starvation, but by putting himself in a position to decide that one death deserves another, or two or three others is tantamount to playing God.

Ultimately, Dantés does realize that he has gone too far with his vengeance. He’s has become so consumed with the thought of other’s destruction, that he no longer has time to seek happiness for himself. It makes one wonder if all the years of plotting and planning revenge were worth it. Surely he did many things with his life, and surely he was able to live in wealth and luxury, but when you look back on his life, there isn’t much there which wasn’t dominated by either treachery or revenge. Obviously he must have suffered and that would take it’s toll on a person, however, spending your life fixed on revenge instead of in the pursuit of happiness does seem to double the sentence of suffering and pain rather than alleviate it. This might not be the conclusion Dumas was looking for when he wrote the book, but despite the relatively happy and possibly justified ending to his characters, he does give cause to think about whether there wouldn’t have been another, better route to happiness and tranquillity.

There are a million things you could discuss with this book – it’s a long book, if he didn’t introduce several topics, it would have become rather boring – so basically there’s something in it for everyone. It can be read either as food for thought or just as an adventure story and be equally rewarding for either type of reader. The one thing I will add, is that the ending is really, really sappy and I had to put the playback speed on fast (quicker pace of reading, but still comprehensible) just to get through it without becoming instantly diabetic from the sugar sweetness of it all, but then, I’ve never been one for sappy romance.

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