Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Reading The Count of Monte Cristo - Day Eight

Progress: 481 pages (38% of the way through the book after 28% of my loan period from the library)

Comments of a Personal Nature: My reading slowed over the weekend as a result of: our flat warming and the associated recovery time; the great weather which made golf and walks along the beach preferable to reading Dumas indoors; the fact the story shifts significantly after Dantès finds the treasure (more on this below).

And the reading lull has continued into the working week as I'm actually working. First time in proper employment in nine months. Fun fun.

Reading Notes

Chapter 32: The switch to Franz's perspective grows more and more confusing the longer the story goes without Dantès appearing. I'm left thinking, Why do I care about any of this? Then Dantès appears, though the narrator dances around the fact. Calling himself Sinbad the Sailor / The Count of Monte Cristo may be concealing his identity from the other characters in the novel, but it's not fooling the reader. The name change does, however, help distance the more mysterious count figure from the very human Dantès.

P. 316 The word 'sang-froid' has been used three times in the space of a few chapters. I'm still waiting to hear someone actually use this in conversation!

P. 318-319 Long speil aout the wonders of hashish, followed by Franz tripping. Should be more interesting than it is. Perhaps if I was thirteen again.

p. 320 "...the man who calls himself Sinbad - the name which we, too have used... so that we may be able to designate him in some way." This is one part knowing authorial comment, one part out-and-out lie as the narrator knows Sinbad = Dantès (and alluded to the fact in the chapter with M. Morrel's daughter).

Chapter 33: A long one. Kinda needs the dextrous narrator to make us care! So many stories within stories. I was quite affected/intrigued by the one about Carlini & Rita (he kills her so she won't be violated by anymore bandits) but as it is presented it constitutes highly unbeleivable dialogue and pages for the sake of pages.

I got a massive sense of déjà vu on the last paragraph of p.362. When I went back and re-read the paragraph just now I had no idea what the déjà vu related to. Huh.

Chapter 36: Another glimpse of Dumas the cheeky man o' the world on p. 404: "The Turks... those Greek hats which make them look like winebottles with red tops. Don't you agree?"

Chapter 39: "...the tall, noble young man... our readers will remember seeing in Marselle - in such dramatic circumstances that they cannot so soon have forgotten about them" (p.446). You give us credit for this, but persist in shrouding the Count's identity and intentions in faux mystery...

Chapter 40: "...I never worry about my neighbour, I never try to protect society which does not protect me - indeed, I might add, which generally takes no heed or me except to do me harm - and, since I hold them low in mu esteem and remain neutral towards them, I believe that society and my neighbout are in my debt" (p.460). This is more like it. A passageway between the count and Dantès, a glimpse of the revenge (bloodshed!) we want to see... But wait, there's another 800 pages to go. Harrumph!

Some Summary

As you've seen, my note taking has trailed off from the feverish rate at the beginning of the novel. Natural, I guess. By page 400 the voice, main characters and everything like that are established. But there has been a major shift from what I'm calling Book One (Chaps 1-30) to Book Two. Book One wasn't the height of literature, but it was engaging. It is only now, 150 odd pages into Book Two that I feel re-engaged, and it's coz the count (Dantès) has just come face to face with M. and Mme de Morcerf (Fernand and Mercedes)...

In a more modern novel, the shifts in perspective could be couched in more explicit terms. Rather than relying on a cheeky, dextrous narrator to stage-manage the action, a modern Monte Cristo might feature several different narrators. Or several sections (Book One, Book Two, Book Three...) with explicitly different styles and ruling genres. There are tacit shifts in Dumas' narrative, but I'm talking about explicit ones, such as the 112 narrators (slight exaggeration) in section two of Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives*, or the constantly shifting relationship between narrative and fiction in Phillip Roth's The Counterlife.


* It may be too soon to compare the two, but I'm guessing the Dantès being screwed over and Dantès getting his final revenge will act as bookends for this interminable middle section which does little more than eek out aspects of the count's character, just as the first person diary entries book end the section about Lima and Belano as seen by others in The Savage Detectives.

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