When I read The Three Musketeers all those years ago, I remember I could not put the book down until I had reached the end of D’Artagnan’s vicissitudes. And I thought, surely this is Dumas’ greatest work and cannot possibly be exceeded. ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ comes very close to that superb work. I have a special soft spot for the musketeer book, however, I was very pleasantly surprised by the Cristo novel. Firstly, it’s not a novel for the faint hearted: 1276 pages long, and not one of those pages could I have lived without. There’s so much going on during this story: stories within the story, parallel plots, and an underlying sense of the extravagant, the exquisitely oriental and fabulous…which is what makes a good story-teller, and Dumas is one of the best—I would say he is the Dickens of the French writers.
Dumas paints a picture of a central character which is young, spirited, talented and hopelessly in love. Then, by the treachery and jealousy of ‘friends’ the protagonist’s world is shattered when he is thrown in prison and left there to perish. Life is a living hell for Edmond Dantes, but in his suffering he meets a man of honour, a fellow inmate who teaches him chemistry, several languages, politics and opens up Edmond’s spirit so he is moulded into a man of wisdom, a man of the highest educational standard, a true phenomenon. And Dantes does escape, eventually.
Now, free, and the inheritor of his teachers’ fortune, Edmond wears the shroud of the mysterious and magnificent Count of Monte Cristo. Old acquaintances are revisited, God’s wrath is acted upon them in acts of just punishment, and new friendships are born, all of which keep the reader turning the pages with relish until we reach a most satisfying finale.
I so enjoyed both books by Dumas that I will endeavour to get my hands on all the books he has written and to read them all. I’m open to any recommendations by fellow readers on this French giant of story-telling.