It really depends on your tolerance for long set ups and seemingly unrelated events happening. Also, as to be expected with a book written in the 1800s, there is some gender nonsense.
The book is largely a romp. But it’s a really long romp and sometimes it forgets that it should be romping along and instead starts meandering into asides and anecdotes. At those times, it is pretty boring!
So here are a couple things to consider when you are considering The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas.
This book is long
This isn’t really the book’s fault. If you think about the way that writing was done at the time this book was written, it would have been released in a serial format. The modern joke about this kind of writing is that Dickens was paid by the word and that’s why is stuff is so long.
For reference, a typical audiobook is roughly anywhere between eight and twelve hours long. the audiobook version of Great Expectations is about 18 and a half hours long. The audiobook version of The Count of Monte Cristo that I listened to was 43 hours long.
For a better reference, in case you are not familiar with how long Great Expectations is, Game of Thrones (the first book in the series) clocks in at almost 34 hours and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the longest Harry Potter book) is 26 and a half hours long.
So. This is a long book.
I think read the way it was intended, from week to week or month to month in installments, would get rid of some of the drag. When you’re only getting a chapter or a few chapters at a time, you just want to read the next bit. It warps your sense a little of how long plots take.
When I watch a TV show all in a row that I had previously watched from week to week or when I reread a webcomic that I had read as it was updating, I’m always surprised by how quickly some plots resolve and how others play out. There’s a much different psychology between the two forms of release, and because of that, I hesitate a little to say that the middle part of this book is sometimes bloated, meandering, and boring.
But, well, we read books all in one go now. And the middle part of this book is sometimes bloated, meandering, and boring.
The first quarter and last quarter are fantastic
I say this with the caveat that it helps if you have a little knowledge and historical context. But I think it would still hold up even if you didn’t.
The first part is all about Edmond Dantes getting set up by a trio of goons who are jealous of him/are too drunk to not set him up (just…roll with it). The plotting goons are successful because the judge who reviews the case has some personal motivations for locking Dantes away. The scene where the trio plots to put Dantes away cracked me up. It was so full of fun characters being ridiculous.
The scene with King Louis whatever number he was also cracked me up. I don’t know if additional historical knowledge here helps or if everyone finds a king obsessed with trying to translate Plutarch is funny but I laughed.
The stretch where Dantes is in prison and the escapes is also great stuff. (Spoilers I guess but the book is about a dude getting revenge, so I don’t think is news to anyone.)
Then at the end after many shenanigans and plot machinations, everything starts falling into place. The plots and plans getting carried out or going sideways are all super satisfying. I found the last part of this book really fun to read and it was fun seeing how everything played out. Especially after slogging through some of the boring stuff.
There is some weird gender stuff
It can’t be helped. Some of the way women are written in this book plays out in a way that feels dated to a modern reader. Can we fault Dumas for it? It’s important to note and critique these things, but also, you have to expect it to some extent. If you don’t want to deal with it or only want to read books where this stuff isn’t as much of an issue, that’s totally fine! But here’s a quick rundown if you want more information to make a decision:
- The female characters we are supposed to like or admire are pure women of virtue who are kind and naive and are generally angelic creatures who are judged or faulted for not being angelic creatures.
- The worldly women who do stuff and are more active tend to have shady pasts or do villainous things (like poisoning a bunch of people).
- There is a weird plot point where an innocent young woman (a teenager? someone in her twenties?) ends up in a relationship with an adult man who has been a father figure to her. This one gave me some serious eyebrow raises.
The angelic women can be parts of interesting things happening. For example, I loved the relationship between Noirtier and Valentine. But when the plot focused on Valentine’s hidden love affair? I sped up the playback so it wouldn’t take as long.
It is written in the style of the time
I guess duh on this part, but it still bears repeating: this book does not read like a modern day novel.
The type of language used, the storytelling tropes, even the vocabulary. All of it is a bit old timey. I think the story is good enough and written well enough that it’s not hard to follow, but it does take more concentration up front until you familiarize yourself with the style.
And then just accept that a lot of characters are going to launch into a chapters long stories where they are just talking a ton about something that happened. It will happen a lot. Will you zone out and stop paying attention while they do this? Maybe! Will it cause you confusion later on in the book? Ehhh…probably not.
Should you read it?
Possibly. Consider reading this book if:
- You don’t mind reading long books.
- You love a good and complicated set up and aren’t afraid to wade through things that don’t initially seem important or relevant.
- You are interested in French history around the time of Napoleon trying to make a comeback or the restoration of the French throne.
- You want to read more classics.
- You like a good social commentary.
- You are entertained by the idea of a dude essentially putting on a wig or a pair of glasses to disguise himself and then adopting an exaggerated accent for each one.
Consider avoiding this book if:
- You don’t want to spend more than 40 hours of your life reading a single book.
- You like it when plots move along at a nice clip and there are not meandering chapters that tell long stories that take awhile to pay off.
- You don’t want to read about pure angelic women who must remain virtuous or be punished.
- You don’t care about classics or really about French literature or history.
- You don’t want to read a book that could have ended a lot sooner at Dantes just gotten therapy after he escaped from prison.
I thought it was worth it for the parts of the book that were a good romp. I thought some scenes were really funny. I liked seeing how all the plotting played out. I would have liked a bit of the story to be cut out.
Bonus points for Eugenie. This book would have been better with more Eugenie.