I’m currently ploughing my way through the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. When I say currently, what I mean is, I have been reading it on and off for the last six months. It’s a big book, I’ve put it down a few times, I’ve even read other books in between, and, although translated, it’s written in 18th Century prose, all of which has helped to slow my usually rapid consumption of reading material. My edition even has little notes to let me in on some of the unusual, often disused, foreign or contemporary remarks and words strewn throughout its pages, which results in me flicking back and forth to the appendix, slowing me still further.
Whilst reading, I’ve been comparing it to a modern novel, partly because I’ve come across the odd ‘writers advice’ article in my time. The length is less unusual these days, but the style of the novel goes completely against modern traditions. It’s incredibly convoluted, it has more subplots and back stories than you dare count and a cast much larger than many modern novels could sustain. It’s filled with sweeping narrative and excessive detail, something that the modern ‘show don’t tell’ ideology discourages unreservedly.
And while all of these things are true, and I do occasionally find myself tiring of descriptions down to the button of an outfit worn by a character, and references to things I know little about (the relevance of wearing clothes of a certain cut for example) I generally find it drawing me in, making me feel part of this society and quite happily engaging with the story. Quite a feat considering I’m separated from this reality by a couple of hundred years.
It is, without doubt, constructed with the same meticulous eye for detail that the story’s lead character applies to his revenge. Every subplot and aside has been weighed and measured to deliver the end result, and while it may meander like a Gentleman of high social standing, taking it’s time to explore the little things it finds rather than galloping for the finish, it’s still a page turner. Maybe modern writers should not be as afraid to wander off and spend a little time exploring the characters, their backgrounds and histories. Maybe novelists should meander from time-to-time and help create a richer, more three-dimensional universe for us to explore.
Overall I’m finding The Count… a fascinating read and will make an effort to read more of the literary classics (something I’ve been meaning to do for some time). And with the classics for sale so cheap (even though an ordinary paperback would hardly break the bank), due to not having to pay royalties, I would urge you to grab a copy.