The Count of Monte Cristo is a 500 page story bloated into a 1000 page novel. The parts of the story that are good are really good. Dumas gives us many a poetic turn of phrase and the characters are generally quite engaging. However, at times the story gets too convoluted. Most of the characters share their back story, in great detail. After the 3rd of 4th time a character tells his (or her) past, I felt like the main story screeched to a halt.
As for the main story, well that’s pretty straight forward: revenge. Edmund Dantes, a newly promoted French captain, is mixed up in a Bonapartist revolution. Before the previous captain shuffled loose the mortal coil, he had Edmund make a stop at an island to pick up a letter. The letter implicates someone in helping Napoleon return from exile and overthrow the King. However, he doesn’t know what the letter contains. So when the Quartermaster of Dantes’ ship, a jealous friend of Edmund’s betrothed, and a neighbor of Edmund’s falsely accuse Edmund of some crime, Edmund is brought before the law. Specifically, the King’s attorney M. de Villefort. Edmund is sure of his innocence and can only think it has to do with the letter. So he shows the letter to the attorney. That’s when all hell breaks loose. The person in the letter happens to be de Villefort’s father. So in a theme that runs through the novel, to save face and avoid having his family’s honor besmirched, he sends Edmund to jail…for 14 years.
While in prison, for reasons unknown to him, Edmund meets a proclaimed mad priest. The priest has been trying to bribe his way out of prison by claiming he has hidden riches. The priest takes Edmund under his wing and teaches him languages, math, philosophy and a whole host of other things. They form such a bond that the priest reveals the location of this treasure: on the island of Monte Cristo. So naturally, the old priest dies and Edmund escapes with the former’s blessing to use the treasure.
The story fast forwards a few years and a mysterious aristocrat appears on the global stage: The Count of Monte Cristo. He shows influence and riches of a scale that have never been seen before. Though it isn’t revealed for 100s of pages, the Count’s true identity of M. Dantes is but thinly veiled. He spends the rest of the novel proving he is a man of both incredible honor and amazing riches, while at the same time laying the foundation for the utter destruction of those folks responsible for his imprisonment. There are plenty of neat little mysteries presented and tight twists that keep you guessing as to what’s happening next, even though the ultimate end is never in doubt. There are long swaths of the story that are thoroughly enjoyable but the prevalent themes of not only the aforementioned honor and money but also match-making of young rich folks does get wearisome. I’d recommend the book with a word of warning, I’d have a fluff book to escape to for those stretches of this book that drag. If you’ve got that, give this book a shot.