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Friday, March 4, 2016

The Count of Monte Cristo

I've now finished the Count of Monte Cristo.  Next up are God Emperor of Dune, 1776 and Beloved.

The Count of Monte Cristo was written by French author Alexandre Dumas and originally published in a serialized format in 1844 and 1845.  The unabridged translation I read was anonymously published in 1846.  The book set in the early 19th century, during Napoleon's attempts to return from exile and is basically the classic archetypal revenge story. I really enjoyed it.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book was simply the insight I got about cultural norms in France and Italy during the 1830s.  When people would go to shows, anyone who matters would miss the first act.  Anyone who gets there on time is simply there to watch as the more important people arrive.  The gender norms were even more bizarre.  At one point in the book, a woman is talking about wanting to visit the Count's house, but it told she won't be able to because he has no wife.  It was apparently inappropriate for a woman to go to a house where there is no woman to receive her, even when accompanying her husband.

The characters are rich, detailed, and compelling.  There were very few characters that I didn't find myself critical of, and there were also very few that I didn't like (or at least pity) at some point.  What's makes this especially impressive is the very large cast of characters that he's able to give so much depth to.  The large number of characters itself, however, is not without its drawbacks.  There are so many people, the majority of whom seem to have at least two names, and at least four ways that they can be referred to.  When a mother and daughter are in a conversation, my mind doesn't intuitively recognize that Madame Villefort is the mother and Mademoiselle Villefort is the daughter.

The novel also has very prominent themes of revenge, justice, jealousy, redemption, forgiveness, and fidelity.  It's interesting to imagine what a good person could be driven to do when everything they've hoped for and loved are ripped away from them because of the petty greed and jealousy of people they trusted.  It can also be scary to think of someone you slighted plotting for over a decade to extract revenge.

Overall, it was a great book.  The only other critique I have is that the book dragged in a few spots.  But this never went on for long, and it did very little to detract from the story generally. I would also highly recommend the audio version of the book, which is available from Amazon for less than $4.  The accents really brought the characters to life.

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