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The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas,  Robin Buss This is a definite strong 4 star book for me. Of course, for me the stars are usually relative to a variety of factors, so just because books get the same or different star rating by me doesn't mean much about what I think about those books other than that more stars is better. In this case I think this book deserves 4 stars primarily for entertainment value. It does handle some serious themes but not very deeply, and most of what is presented is a story for the sake of a story. Despite being a tale of revenge it isn't for the most part an action story. Much of what happens is developed over long periods through more subtle methods than sword play or gunshots. That being said, there were some places where I found myself racing ahead. Still, I think the primary value is fun. I found it fun to follow the sub-plots and twistings of the narrative. This is one of the reasons that I like long involved stories like Dickens or Herodotus. Stories that take the scenic route to get where they are going. I don't mean I can't appreciate terse focused and directed writing but that I enjoy these lengthy meandering take your time ways of story telling. (So certainly of course I am strongly in favor of the unabridged edition of this work and by the way also found the translation very readable, though I have to admit that I was taught by my parents that abridged versions were basically unethical. I say that with a little humor but also seriously.) As an example opposed to some reviewers I like the fact that the story seems to jump far away from the Count and his revenge to concern itself with Franz and Albert in Italy and slowly wends it's way back to the main concern of the novel. I found the description of Rome during Carnival season to be very fun and that section of the book made quite an impression on me. I also found his description of Parisian society and it's difference from the way of life the characters pursued in Italy to be interesting. On the other hand in some ways there is less time to look around when the story gets to Paris for although the completion is still a long way off the pace of the plot picks up and we are conscious of being closer to the revenge by the presence of the main players. Another point of strong writing to me was the conversation between the Count and Villefort that takes place in the chapter 'Ideology'. It's not that I agree with the Count's view on human relations, but that I thought it an interesting conversation that had a lot of force and tension in it because of the positions of the two characters with respect to each-other and the context that we know and that Villefort doesn't. As another reviewer pointed out, there's a lot of stuff that we as the readers are told or led to guess long before the character's so often there isn't a whole lot of suspense in the specific revelations but there's still a lot of tension in the progress of the revenge. Even the moral qualms that the Count starts to have from the time Mercedes intercedes with him on behalf of her son are easily anticipated well before they actually happen.

So much for the parts I enjoyed. Now I would like to cover some things that were more questionable to me. The first is of course the nobility of revenge. I think in the end I have to come down on the side that revenge is not noble, even in a case like this one where it could be argued that the Count has every justification for pursuing it. I think in the end revenge is resting in resentment of the wrong done to one and that a truly spiritual character would be able to rise above it without having to do violence to the one who harmed them. For that reason I can't help but see the Count as somewhat a figure of evil. On the other hand it makes sense to me that as he goes through the end of the novel and the culmination of his plots, he begins to doubt, spurred particularly by Mercedes to break out of his simple cold hatred, but that there is also redemption in that breaking down of the implacable, and that there is even some further justification of his behavior in the very debate he has with himself. It would be true hubris for him to not even entertain doubt. Still, even given those thoughts, I still can't help but look at the Count as something of a figure of evil for taking himself to be providence in some sense rather than seeking redemption through forgiveness. Here I want to be clear that I am not arguing an aesthetic point of view. It would be a totally different novel if that choice were made, and I'm fine with Dumas writing about the Count as set on revenge and even as being a part of God's divine justice. That is, I'm not saying I think the novel should be different, I'm just giving my own ethical judgment of the character. Dumas deals with these themes to some extent but probably much more could be said about these topics. Again though that would be a different book.

Along with that aspect of the Count, there's the parallel way he treats the Morrels. He let's both the father and the son go through hell before relieving their suffering. The count argues in his closing letter that the nature of human psychology justifies this, as one can't truly appreciate the good without suffering the bad. Again, this is a case of the count setting himself above human affairs. I guess the Count sees himself as something of a marked man. He's cursed in that it was through no fault of his own that he undergoes the immense suffering that he does, but that this curse is exactly what sets him apart from the ordinary flow of human lives. In a sense it is his very cursedness itself which shows him to be somehow a favorite of God through whom punishment and reward can be delivered.

I guess one thing that in general did bother me about the book as whole was it's lack of realism. Again, I don't think it should have been different but I did find myself longing at times for more realistic happenings and psychologies.

On the whole it was very entertaining to read.