Tuesday, April 27, 2010

First impressions of 'The Count of Monte Cristo' (and a giveaway)

Perhaps it was overly optimistic of me to commit to reading The Count of Monte Cristo for The Classics Circuit Dumas tour this month. I'd really hoped to be done, or if not done, then at least be well on the way, by now. However, my reading hasn't gone at all as planned this month. I'm currently about 400 pages in, which means I still have about 800 pages to go! One of the reasons I haven't been able to read as much of The Count of Monte Cristo as I had hoped this month is because the book is just too darn big and heavy to lug around with me on my train commute, so I've only been reading it at home in the evenings, and I'm so sleepy these days that I never seem to get much read before falling asleep. But instead of cancelling my tour date, here are some of my first impressions of what I've read so far.

But first a little background about why I chose this book in the first place, especially since I often have a major fear of chunky books. Actually that's not exactly true. I quite often enjoy big tomes once I'm in them but it's the starting them that I shy away from. Their size simply intimidates me, so those big books tend to just sit on my shelves unread, and taunting me.

Back when we were living in England, at some point, Penguin had a 3 for 2 sale on their Black Classics. Who can resist a 3 for 2 sale, right? In general, living in England was a dangerous time for me. Every trip to a bookstore was filled with temptation. You have to remember, before our time in England I'd spent 4 years in Japan, where I hadn't really got on to the internet yet (no Book Depository), and English books were hard to come by, and expensive. Talk about a kid in a candy store! Is it surprising I went a bit book mad? Anyway, I digress. So I took the opportunity of the Penguin sale to buy a selection of classics I felt like I really should read someday but were still gaps in my literary journey. Dumas, Dickens, James, Cervantes, Tolstoy, and so on. Of course we've been back in Japan for almost 5 years now and there most of those books still sit, unread.

Count of Monte Cristo

Fast forward to late last year when my husband suddenly decided, rather out of the blue, to read The Count of Monte Cristo. I don't remember now what inspired him but he up and bought a seven-volume set in Japanese. (Now why can't English books be so neat, and compact, and portable?) This was surprising because he almost never reads fiction, never mind European classics. He does read but it is almost exclusively non-fiction, primarily computer or business books. I remembered my neglected Penguin paperback and told him I'd read along with him in 2010. However, the new year came and I kept getting sidetracked with other books and reading commitments. Meanwhile, he went ahead and started, and has really liked what he's read. He has currently stalled at about half way (volume 4), not because he wasn't enjoying it, but due to having more work-related reading lately. He still wants to go back to it, and I still wanted to read it. The opportunity to talk about a book in common is such a rare occurrence after all. So when The Classics Circuit announced a Dumas tour it was the perfect excuse to finally pick up the darn thing. And here we are.

So what do I think of it so far? I have to say I'm quite enjoying it! As I'm reading the Penguin edition, it's the newer translation by Robin Buss, and it reads very smoothly. I haven't compared it to any other version but I'm happy with this one. A good translation really can make such a difference. Plus I'm loving the setting. In addition to my more recent fascination with Japanese literature, I've long had a major crush on France, ever since my year there on a student exchange program, many many years ago. Reading Japanese classics has taken a bit of precedence lately but spending some time with Dumas has reminded me that I really want to read more French, and other European, literature and classics! Always the same old problem though. Too many books, not enough time.

As for the story itself, so far we have conspiracy, wrongful imprisonment, dungeons, danger, bandits, treasure, mystery, intrigue...not a bad beginning! I only know the very general outline and nothing about how it ends up, so I can only guess at where the story will go from here. I've heard some comments from others that didn't like the path the main character took, but I'm looking forward to experiencing the rest of the story for myself, and am curious if the early momentum of the story will hold for another several hundred pages.

I'm also enjoying chatting about the book with H. Whenever he sees me reading it, he asks which part I'm at, and then we sometimes discuss it a little. Those of you with bookish partners, or spouses, might wonder what the big deal is but this is such a rare event for us. I don't have the chance to talk about books very often in real life. I suppose that even though it is very long, the fact that it is at heart an adventure story makes it a good Western (as opposed to Asian, not about cowboys) classic for H to start with. I'm pretty sure this story is much more up his alley than any of Jane Austen's novels would be, for example. We have almost a week off soon, for Golden Week, so we're hoping to both make some progress in our reading of The Count of Monte Cristo. So my apologies for not having a full review for you today but I'll post our further thoughts on the book later on. 

I actually ended up with an extra copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, specifically the Wordsworth Classics edition. Long story short, a while ago I found a cheap copy of the TV series on DVD (which we're very much looking forward to watching together once we finish reading) bundled with the book, which was considerably cheaper than the DVD on its own! So if you haven't ever read The Count of Monte Cristo but would like the chance to do so, please just leave a comment on this post, and I'll draw a name on the last day of the tour, Sunday, May 9th. Giveaway is open worldwide to anyone who has access to regular mail service.

Click on the button above, or the following link for the full list of blogs participating in The Classic Circuit's Paris in the Spring: Alexandre Dumas Tour.  Thank you to the organisers for all their hard work putting The Classics Circuit tour together, and for nudging me to finally pick up this book. 

Have you read The Count of Monte Cristo? Do big books intimidate you?


The small print:  I purchased this book for my personal library.  Links in this post to Amazon (including book covers) contain my Associates ID.  Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission.  For more information please visit my About Page.  


  1. The Count is a big book to try to read in a short time. I read it over a summer with a group.

    I loved it! The revenge and Edmund. It's all good.

    Since I have that exact copy, I don't need to enter the contest.

  2. I spent a week on Monte Cristo last year. Starting here, and continuing here, and then pushing on for three more days.

    It's a crazy book.

    No free book for me, please - I don't have an address.

  3. I plan to read this at some point, but only in French! By not buying English translations of French books, I force myself to keep up my university French. Now if you've got another copy of the translation of 'Pinball, 1973', that's a different story ;)

    I've just realised that none of the first three commenters want the book; that must be a world first!

  4. I LOVED this book! I hope that you manage to finish, although I know what you mean about it being huge and heavy and hard to lug around. I decided to read it one summer when I would be spending most of my time at home, and it's definitely one of my favorites.

    I unfortunately no longer have a copy of the book, so go ahead and enter me (and if I win, you'll only have to ship it to Japan!)

  5. I recall I read The Count of Monte Cristo (it had to have been ad abridgment) at about age 12 or so-I would not say I am intimidated by long books I just think longer sometimes before I begin them to ponder if they are worth the time-I can relate well to you going crazy in the London Book Stores!

  6. Hi Inspringitisdawn,

    The Count of Monte Cristo!

    I remember I read an abridged version of this book when I was about 12. It was a page turner! So thrilling and makes you want to know what will happen next. I read Three Musketeers (unabridged). We bookwarm girls talked about whom do you choose, d'Artagnan, Aramis?

    I don't remember reading unabridged Monte Cristo.
    It must be quite a challenge. I heard one who was in bed for a month enjoyed reading this book.

    I don't think I would like to get the copy. I already know the ending. (That is a bad thing about abridged books, though I became familiar with classics with those abridged versions for children. Nowadays children seldom read even if it is abridged and easier) BTW I read all those books in Japanese.

    Enjoy the rest!

  7. I truly loved this book when I read it, and at quite a young age. Dumas has always remained a favourite.

  8. I havent read this book as yet and would love to read it. Big books dont intimidate me - it is just so difficult to handle them and they tend to slide off when you read in bed. Even Wolf Hall is very big and I just finished a Susan Howatch which was 700 pages which I thought was a rather big book.

  9. that's so great when you can share a book read with the hubby. i have the same problem. it is rare for the hubby and i to read the same books. eeek! the cover on your giveaway is one i've seen before. on a mr darcy related book! so confusing!
    see it here:

  10. I have the same edition and I believe my copy was the result of a 3 for 2 offer too. I wasn't brave enough to commit to this one for the Classics Circuit - I opted for a shorter book as a warm up - but I'm hoping to be inspired.I've heard a lot of good reports.

  11. I enjoyed the abridged version of it. I also read the full length same version you have (the Penguin classics). That seemed to drag for me but so many people love it. I hope you do too.

    No need to enter me, as I don't need a second copy!

  12. Glad to know that you are liking this read, so far. Count of Monte Cristo has been on my to read list for some time now. I actually thought I would read it this past fall, did not. I really need to read it sooner than later because the story does sound interesting to me. I guess I am a bit intimidated by the book as to why I have not cracked it open.

    Kudos to you for finally starting to read this story! Yay! :)

  13. I LOVE this book. It ties with Jane Eyre as my favorite book ever! I never noticed before, but the copy I've been reading all these years is the abridged version. Now I must go look for the unabridged to see what I've been missing out on. I enjoyed reading what you had to say about it so far.
    For some interesting background on the book, check out my stop on the tour today!

  14. The book sounds like The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova or maybe The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson.
    I'm quite intrigued by the book, because it is a classic and the comments I read are very positive and classics and positive comments don't connect to each other (in my head, that is) But this one sounds like a very entertaining read, there sure is a lot happening!
    I don't have people around me, either, with whom I can discuss books. Nobody reads in my family and friends don't either.
    About the intimidating part: I am intimidated by big books. I often think they must be very boring, but often they aren't. And I always have a reluctant feeling to start the book and often find myself browsing the pages to see how many pages I have left.
    Praise for you, by the way! You already finished one third of the book and 400 pages are a lot!

    Tineke Schaap (of mylifeshesaid)


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