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Tuesday, May 01, 2018

The Count of Monte Cristo (1848) by Alexandre Dumas

Book Review
The Count of Monte Cristo (1848)
by Alexandre Dumas
Blackstone Publishing

   This forty eight hour audiobook tops Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (42 hours) as the longest audiobook I've tackled.  The length gave me ample time to reflect on the differences in form between the modern novel: usually about 300 pages long and the serial format which dominated the early to mid 19th century.  Authors writing serials were often paid by the word and so these sorts of books contain volume: Volume characters, volume plot, volume length. 

   At 1276 pages in the printed version, The Count of Monte Cristo represents a peak of this form.   The story of Edward Dantes spans thirty years, a half dozen different countries, features fifty different characters who play substantial roles in the plot and Dantes himself boasts eight different names (mostly though he is the Count of Monte Cristo.)  Despite the incredibly labyrinthine plot machinations, the essence of The Count of Monte Cristo is easy to state in two sentences:

 Edward Dantes, a promising young sailor, is betrayed by two friends and a judge and sent to a remote island prison.  Eventually he escapes, and makes good his revenge on those who betrayed him and their families.
   Like a road trip, getting there is at least half the fun, and Dumas (and his ghostwriter/collaborator Auguste Maquet sprinkle an incredible amount of specialized knowledge into the text.   It's these details that keep you interested.  Some of the devices Dumas uses for length are pretty funny, like the paralyzed character who can only be understood through elaborate blinking and pointing routines, all of which are described in full every time he shows up in the story.  These is also a ton of soliloquy/internal monologues where the reader is treated to pages of descriptions of internal mental processes.

  I hit a wall about 30 hours in, but as the dominoes fall into place during the last 20 hours, my spirits lifted, and at the close I gave a hearty huzzah for his triumph.   Finally, there are a ton of cool early 19th century style points to be gleaned here, if you are into that kind of thing.

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