Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Things I'll Take Away From Reading The Count Of Monte Cristo This Month

(rockin' the bullet points this week... can you tell I've returned to the workforce?)

  • I really want to see the film version starring Jim Caviezel again. I suspect they melded the 3 baddies into one (Guy Pierce) but maybe that's just what seven years of brain cell decay will do to one's memory of a film.
  • The book was too long. I know, how can anyone level such a claim at a 1,200+ page book? I enjoyed the first 200 or so pages and selected chapters near the end, but I wanted excitement and intrigue the whole way through. Didn't happen.

  • Linked to the length: I liked the narrator to begin with, but found his shifts and conceits irksome as the novel progressed. Like when we first meet Franz and see things from his perspective for chapters without having any idea who he is or why he's important… then we meet the Count of Monte Cristo, who we all know is Edmund Dantes, but the narrator daren't mention this fact…. Irksome.
  • The chapter where Bertuccio describes his oath of vengeance against Villefort and it's (semi)fulfilment is just as vivid in my memory as Monte Cristo's quest for revenge. Again, length and complexity doesn't necessarily equal riveting revenge saga.

  • I'm actually quite surprised how nonplussed I was by the middle section of the book, which is essentially a novel of aristocratic matchmaking. I may not have liked these sorts of stories as a younger male reader, but these days I see the artistry in Jane Austen and the humour is P.G. Wodehouse. Adding a revenge plot into a tea-table novel should be awesome. Think Howard's End with Leonard Bast secretly plotting to poison, disgrace or defile the Wilcoxes/Schlegels. But then again, Howard's End is only 340 pages…

As I stated at the beginning of this journey, I had the embryo of an idea for my own revenge saga. From time to time my thoughts drifted from Dumas' story to my own. I'm not sure I know anything more about what will happen than I did at the start of the month, but I feel like there's enough sustenance there to leave it gestating and move on to something else.

That something else is another novel - quite different from 'The Count of Monte Cristo meets A Good Keen Man'. In fact, this novel, which I tried writing last year ('Novel B' for those familiar with my old blog) is more like Tim Winton meets Awakenings.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

In Praise of Copy Editors

A List of Blunders I Did Not Detect in the Manuscript for A Man Melting & Other Stories

  • 'The nineties and naughties' rather than 'nineties and noughties'
  • 'Capetown' rather than 'Cape Town'
  • 'confectionary' rather than 'confectionery'
  • 'hair-lipped' rather than 'hare-lipped'
  • 'Cocoa Pops' rather than 'Coco Pops'
  • 'flauncy' (not yet a word) rather than 'flouncy'
  • Not enough la's in 'Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-te-da' ('Brown Eyed Girl')
  • 'office stationary' rather than 'office stationery'
  • 'doll out petty cash' rather than 'dole out…'
  • I missed out the 'a' in 'Guayaquil' (just once)
  • Misquoted Mr. Charles Darwin ('The words of Nature are to those of Nature' – D'oh!)
  • 'Ministerio de Tourismo' rather than 'Turismo'
  • 'city counsellors' rather than 'councillors'
Thank goodness for copy editors! Now it's a waiting game till the proofs come, and the process will start again.

Reading the Count of Monte Cristo, Day Twenty-Five

I finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo late last night. W00t!

Including the introduction and the endnotes, the book clocked in at 1300 pages, which means I read 52 pages a day on average. I don't think I've ever been so scientific with my reading, so it's good to have a benchmark figure of how fast I should be able to consume a book. (Looking forward to some 300-page ditties that I can do in a week!)

I'm going to take a few days to defrag before I come back with some general thoughts about the book, specifically what aspects of it fired my imagination, but until then here's my...

Reading Notes from the last chunk:

Chapter 100: "Valentine, a prey for the last hour to the fever... let her head continue beyond her control the active, monotonous and implacable operation of the brain, which exhausts itself by reproducing the same thoughts or giving birth to the same images." Replace 'fever' with 'hangover' and it still rings true.

Chapter 111: Right at the very end of the chapter, the count says, "Pray God that I have not already done too much." Basically, his initial plan included killing Villefort's daughter and wife (by providing the poisons Mme. Villefort used), but a bit of collatteral damage (Villefort's younger son; the possibility of Morrel's broken heart) and the count gets the speed wobbles. I'm not sure why this troubles me. Perhaps it's because it comes so late in the book that it's hard to believe Monte Cristo/Edmund Dantes hasn't doubted himself before. If being loved by his friend is enough to save Valentine Villefort, what about all the other lives he's ruining that didn't directly lead to his imprisonment? The dude is the epitome of self-centred.

Chapter 113: Visiting his cell on the Chateau D'If, Monte Cristo reads his inscription on the wall: 'My God, let me not forget!'
"That was my only prayer in my last years. I no longer asked for freedom, I asked for memory, and I was afraid I should become mad and forget." (p.1201)
This is powerful stuff, but it should have featured the first time around (when Dantes was still imprisoned) as well.

Chapter 115:" [Danglar's] first impulse was to breathe, to make sure that he was not wounded: this was something that he had come across in Don Quixote, not perhaps the only book that he had read, but the only one of which he could remember something." (p.1218)
I've always thought the best place to insult non-readers would be in a book... Seems a bit of a cheap shot against a man who's about to be starved to the point of death.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reading The Count of Monte Cristo, Day 23

I've been a bit slack with my updates lately, but not with my reading. Should finish during the weekend, thus avoiding the ignominy of a $1 one week extension of my library loan. Yus!

Progress: Chapter 96 (took me a while to convert from the roman numerals… bring on Chapter C).

Page 1060/1243 (85% complete after 82% of my allotted reading time)

Reading notes

Chapter 67 Some terrible "dialogue" on p.737 when Villefort is "talking" nto Mme. Danglars… Sorry for the over use of sarcastic quotation marks, but the guy tells her things she did which only the reader needs to know. "You bravely returned home, supported by your nurse, while I used a duel as an excuse for my wound." Nuh, you've lost me Alexandre. Just use your narrator who can travel through space and time and see inside the hearts and heads of man. Sheesh.

Chapter 68 Monte Cristo: "I like everybody in the way that God ordered us to love our neighbours, that is, in Christian charity. I only bestow hatred on certain people" (p.747). This seems to directly contradict what the count said to Franz and Albert in Rome some 400 pages ago.

Chapter 69 Quite like this chapter. Villefort seeks out two people who claim to know about Monte Cristo's past, Abbe Busoni and Lord Wilmore, both of whom happen to be Monte Cristo in disguise. Busoni and Wilmore pretend to hate each other, Wilmore is openly seeking revenge on Monte Cristo… "I have already fought the count three times… the first time with pistols, the second with foils and the third with sabres… The first time he broke my arm; the second, he ran me through the lungl and the third, he gave me this wound… So I greatly resent him… Naturally he will die by no hand except mine." (Dramatic irony alert!)

A Lord Wilmore character that isn't actually someone in disguise has a place in a revenge saga, to provide humour and to contrast with the serious, central revenge plot.

Chapter 70 Mercedes interest in Monte Cristo not eating is something that could also be borrowed and built upon. Later we find out that Monte Cristo doesn't eat in the home of his enemy so he will be unencumbered (morally, I guess) when it comes time to exact his revenge.

Chapter 73 Some more bad writing here. Morrel breaks into the Villefort's and the narrator tells us, "Now, most of all, he found use of the internal layout of the house" (p.803). Without actually seeing such a conversation (they may have, I might have skimmed it) it's like saying, "He was lost, but luckily he remembered the magic wand a fairy gave his mother the day he was born."

Chapter 75 More bad writing, unfortunately. The document in M. Noirtier's secret door confessing to the murder of Franz's father contains dialogue:

"'What is to be done, then?' asked the general.

"'I have my own carriage,' said the president." (p.824)

Then on p.826-7 we get full blown speeches and proper narration: "Monsieur d'Epinay became very pale. Once more he looked all around him. Several members of the club were muttering and searching for weapons under their cloaks."

Basically, this stuff blows the realism of the story for me. I can't believe in the document being read out, and therefore the scene presented. Too much of the writer shows through these passages: Dumas the playwright, making things come from people's mouths; Dumas the guy who gets paid by the line.

Chapter 77 I wish I'd been counting the references to the Thousand and One Nights. I think the one on p.846 was the last, but there'd have to be at least a dozen.

Chapter 83 'The Hand of God' Monte Cristo, dressed as Abbe Busoni, describes all the actions of God bringing mercy/justice upon Caderousse, but of course these are all things Monte Cristo did. Later, we get glimpses closer inside the count's head (like when Mercedes asks him not to kill Franz) and we see he really does believe he his an agent of God, or at least an avenging angel… To me that makes him less interesting (because he's either mad or seriously devout) than if he was being ironic here.

When Caderousse dies (stabbed by his treacherous buddy Benedetto) the Count stands over him and says, "One!" Body count! Awesome. Unfortunately he wasn't there to see Morcerf blow his brains out, so I'm not sure if this body count will recur… definitely something a revenge saga should have.

Chapter 86 "Truly generous men are always ready to feel compassion when their enemy's misfortune exceeds the bounds of their hatred." (p.953)

Chapter 89
'Night' A modest title for one of the most anticipated chapters in the book: Mercedes tells the Count of Monte Cristo that she knows he is Edmond Dantes.

Chapter 92 "Haydee experienced all the emotion of a daughter reunited with a dear father and all the delirium of a mistress greeting and adored lover. And Monte Cristo's joy, though less expansive, was no less great… For some days, Monte Cristo had realised something that for a long time he had dared not believe, which is that there were two Mercedes in the world, and he could be happy once more."

Apart from the creepy father-lover aspect of Haydee and the count's relationship, I think it verges on sexism to allow Monte Cristo a second Mercedes (circa 20 years old) when the original Mercedes is still alive (and her husband has just shot himself). Sure, back in those days old fogies could marry young girls, but all the pairing off in this novel has been of people roughly the same age. I know it's retarded to say the count and Mercedes should shack up and live happily ever after and want the mother of all revenge sagas, but there you have it: I'm retarded.

Chapter 95 "We beg [the readers] in consequence to step back in time with us and to transport themselves… to the finely gilded drawing-room…" (p.1032) This is an example of the time-travelling narrator I mentioned earlier. But it's worth noting that there has been decidedly less of the intrusive narrator in the latter chapters, perhaps because the degree to which Monte Cristo is stage managing the action has become more and more apparent. In the beginning, however, when it was just fate controlling things, we needed a more dextrous narrator.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cooking with Kiwi

Slow-cooking is all the rage these days. I'm using my gran's crockpot (that's what they were called before they got cool) and was looking through a suitably aged recipe book, The New Zealand Crockpot Cookbook by Joan Bishop (first published1985). The most striking thing about the recipes were the number of times fruit and meat met in the one dish.

* Chicken and Apricot Pate (a classic combo but rather old fashioned these days)

* Fruited Pot Roast of Veal (includes dried apricots, pitted prunes and raisins)

* Chicken with Pineapple (Pineapple might just be the most eighties fruit. Remember those cheese and pineapple hedgehogs? And, of course, the Hawaiian Pizza)

* Lamb with Tamarillos

And the pièce de résistance:

* Pork and Kiwifruit Casserole (p.57 if your interested)

Then on Sunrise this morning, they showed this ad from the eighties as part of the obituary for legendary TV slush, I mean chef, Keith Floyd:

Those prawns don't look like they want a bar of those Kiwifruit slices. And chicken stuffed with Kiwi? (No, that's not a form of Turducken involving our national emblem).

It's official. The white man had no idea about food in the eighties. Though that meringue looked good.

I think I've officially outed myself as a foodie. On Saturday, M and I are off to Martinborough for French cooking lessons at a winery. (I pretend it's all for her birthday.)

Time for a glass of red, a toast to Keith Floyd, and an entirely fruitless main course!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reading the Count of Monte Cristo, Day Fifteen

Progress: Chapter 65. Page 715/1243 (57% complete)

The note-taking has continued to dry up, partly because I'm doing most of my reading in my lunch break or on the bus these days, but largely because there ain't much worth noting.

Somewhere between my last post (up to Chap 40) and my first new note (Chap 44) the perspective shifted back to Edmund Dantes, now known as the Count of Monte Cristo. 200 hundred pages earlier I'd been asking for this to happen, but since the narrator doesn't freely acknowledge the Dantes = the Count equation, the reader is kept at a great distance from the main character.

The disconnect between plot of the Count of Monte Cristo everyone knows and the middle wedge of the story was reinforced on Friday while watching the Simpsons (Season 18, Episode 11 : Revenge is a Dish Best Served Three Times). Homer is wrongly imprisoned, escapes and takes his revenge on Meaux (a.k.a. Moe) by making him into a crepe suzette. Bing-bang-bong in all of six minutes.


Latest Reading Notes

Chapter 44 "The Vendetta": a lot of coincidence in Bertuccio's story but it's a good wee story (or is it just good compared to the previous 250pgs?)

p.498 Bertuccio's thoughts before murdering Villefort reminded me of Hamlet. Now there's a revenge story with depth.

p.502 Bertuccio: "Our excessive concern with the welfare of our bodies is almost the only obstacle to the success of any of our plans." True that.

Chapter 52: "Carried forward by the rapidity [ha!] of the narrative, we have merely introduced Valentine to the reader without making her better known." Hmm. The dexterous narrator is no longer there to move the plot along but to signpost sloppy writing.

Chapter 61: Best Chapter Title Ever: 'How to rescue a gardener from dormice who are eating his peaches.'

Chapter 62: Translator's note on the reference like Vatel at Chantilly: "Vatel was the chef to the Prince de Conde, and committed suicide in 1671 because, one fast day when the prince was playing host to the king, the fish for dinner failed to arrive." That's one way to earn your infamy.

Yeah, told you my note-taking had dried up.

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.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Reading the Count of Monte Cristo, Day Three

The casserole is in the crock-pot. My short story about cartography is onto its fourth page. Warren Zevon is pleading for Lawyers, Guns and Money (hunh!). Time for a reading update...

Progress: midway through chapter 31. That's page 308 of 1243 (24.8% of the way through... let's just call it a quarter!)

The Plot So Far: Edmond Dantès is set to become captain of the Pharaon at age nineteen and marry the most beautiful girl in Marseilles, Mercedes, but is arrested and thrown in jail as a Bonapartist traitor thanks to some sneaky dealing by Danglars (the dude who stands to be captain with Dantès out of the way) and Fernand (Mercedes' cousin who has the hots for her, big-time).

After years in prison without trial, and with no hope of release, Dantès tries starving himself, then digging through the wall. His tunnel meets Abbe Faria's, and the older man tutors the younger in the ways of the world. Faria also helps Dantès figure out who's to blame for his incarceration and let's him in on the location of a massive treasure. They build another tunnel, but Faria dies and Dantès seizes the opportunity to pose as Faria's corpse, but instead of being buried in the Chateau D'If's graveyard, the sack is tossed into the sea. Dantès survives and is picked up (eventually) by some smugglers.

After three months, he lands on the uninhabited isle of Monte Cristo to see if Faria's treasure is real. It is. Sweet. He's now rich.

Dantès visits his old neighbour, Caderousse, in disguise, who's having a hard time of it. He learns Caderousse wasn't actively involved in his imprisonment, and also that his father is dead, Danglars is now super rich and powerful, ditto Fernand but he's also married Mercedes! Bummer. Dantès then goes to Marseilles and uses his wealth to save M. Morrel, his old boss, from bankruptcy without revealing his true identity. He then proclaims, "I have taken the place of Providence to reward the good; now let the avenging God make way for me to punish the wrongdoer!" Dun-dun-dun.

Notes from the last two days' reading

Chapter 10: "Let us leave Villefort going hell for leather down the road to Paris..." Dumas assumes the role of stage director at the start of many chapters. Smart in this instance as we fly ahead and meet Louis XVIII and Blacas before Villefort arrives so that the three characters are on similar footing (for the reader) when they're all in the room together.

Chapter 12: Another "Father and Son" chapter. This one is largely extraneous given a) historically we know what happens re: Napolean's return and how short it is and b) the reader suspect Villefort and Noirtier won't be big players in the book for much longer. The reader wants to get back to Dantès BUT Dumas needs to create distance (and tie up a few loose ends I guess).

Chapter 13: "Everyone knows about the return from Elba..." Links to what I was saying about historical info above.

The chapter ends with two pages of summary, one paragraph for each character. Later, when Dantès is free, the summaries are provided as dialogue (conversation with Caderousse), which isn't always realistic, seems a bit more artful than just telling us. Perhaps made worse by the one year jump that follows in the next chapter... The story seems to be slipping from our grasp (our = narrator + reader).

Chapter 14: "As you can see, the inspector was a man of the utmost humanity and altogether worthy of the philanthropic office which he had been entrusted." There's the 'you = reader' thing again, but this time the voice is kinda sarcastic. Will pay attention and see how much irony the narrator actually employs...

P.129 Interesting paragraph criticising the imagination of contemporary monarchs: "They no longer have any sense of the superiority of their divine being: they are men who wear crowns, nothing more." Definitely a different tone to this chapter.

Chapter 15: Pages and pages of Dantès in prison. Not a lot happens. Needs to happen to show time passing and build our sympathy, but it does drag. It's a relief when Faria arrive and Dumas can indulge in dialogue once more!

Chapter 16: Faria: "I discovered that one hundred and fifty books, carefully chosen, give you, if not a complete summary of human knowledge, as least everything that is useful for a man to know..." This better be one of my 150 books, dammit.

The character of Abbe Faria knows almost everything and with deductive abilities akin to Sherlock Holmes* he can work out everything else: extremely useful guy to meet in prison and to help move the plot along!! Despite my cynicism, I like him.

*Unlike in Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, the reader here already knows the answer the detective is looking for, so it's not as amazing.

Chapter 19: Faria's dead body is branded to prove he's not faking it, then he's denied a priest (and thus heaven), then Dantès delays his "burial" (he doesn't know there's no graveyard)... It's a bit sad how poorly the guy is treated considering how important he is to the novel. C'mon, Alexandre, have a heart!

Last line of Chapter 20: The sea is the graveyard of the Chateau D'If." Pretty obvious in context, but epigrammatic when transferred to your notebook!

Chapter 21: Dantès spends an incredibly long time naked, and even commands the smugglers' ship!

Chapter 22: The physical changes in Dantès are necessary later as he goes around unrecognised by people from his old life, but it's nice how each change is grounded in some sort of reason. His complexion is lighter and duller due to lack of sunlight, his voice, "accustomed to prayers, sobs and curses" takes on a "soft resonance" which alternates with a "rough edge that was almost husky."

p.218 "We forgot to mention that Jacopo was a Corsican." Wonderfully human moment for the narrator (who choses the royal we this time).

p.219 Here's that cheeky voice again: "Mercury, God of Tradesmen and Thieves - two sorts of people whom we consider separate, if not entirely distinct, but whom Antiquity appears to have classed together."

Chapter 23: p.220 "At last, by one of those unexpected chances which sometimes happen to people on whom misfortune has exhausted its ingenuity..." Nice.

p.224 "It was not the fault of Dantès, but of God who, while limiting the power of man, has created in him infinite desires!" Way to blame it on the big man, Alexandre.

Chapter 26: Begins "Those who have walked across the south of France, as I have done..." Here the narrator = I = Dumas (he loved to travel). Makes me think every royal we = Dumas + Maquet the ghostwriter... Muy interesante.

p.243 "... from the inn which we have just briefly (but accurately) described." Cheeky again, but the we makes me one if Maquet wrote the sentence (to get the plot moving on) and Dumas added the parenthetical remark?? The idea of two narrators reminds me of Nabokov's Ada.

Also, noticed how the we's and I's signal shifts in the narrative (moving from summary to action or vice versa). the we's may disapear during the action, but if you drill down, the narrator(s) is still there. E.g. the massive assumption/prejudice evidence in "Like all Southerners, he was moderate..." (p.244).

Chapter 27: Another recap chapter, but useful in what was originally a serial.

p.260 Caderousse: "The secret of happiness and misery is between four walls..."


Sweet. Time to check on the casserole.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reading the Count of Monte Cristo, Day One

Those who know me, or have encountered my online antics before, will know I like to impose order upon the disorderly world of writing. Last year it was trying to write 2,732 words a day, while undertaking several side projects such as writing a 100 word story every day in November. (Aside: I think I'll do that again this November. Far more fun than NaNiWriMo.)

Well today I got Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo from the library.

[Bigger aside: I placed it on reserve as it's rather popular. The cost to reserve a book at the Wellington Library: $2. This seems steep considering Edinburgh wiped the fee for reserving books last year and everyone (especially the librarians) found it was brilliant. Especially in a city where books can pop up in several branches, reserving just makes life easier. Wellington is also the only libary system I've come across where if I return a book
to a different branch than the one that issued it, I'll also be charged ($1). I know the figures are small, and there are discounts for Community Service Card holders, but I'd hate to think there's anything standing in the way of impoverished, bookish Wellingtonians (read: minors and writers) getting their hands on books. Not to mention audiobooks being $3!! ... Okay, rant over. I'll be fine once that first pay day comes around.]

The novel (2003 Penguin Classics Version) is 1,243 pages long, not counting the Introduction, Translator's Note and Endnotes.

I have until the 29th of September to return the book. [1-week renewals cost $1!]

Why I'm Reading The Count Of Monte Cristo

One of the first non-picture books I remember reading was The Three Musketeers. I remember being passed the phone receiver and being told to tell my gran what book I was reading. Perhaps this was the beginning of my love of books (thanks to my love of praise), or perhaps it began with my parent's reading to me... Until Rufus provides me with a time-travelling phone booth, I won't know for sure.

But then that was it for me and Alexandre Dumas. I didn't even know that The Man In The Iron Mask featured the three musketeers (and D'Artagnan) until I watched the 1998 film version two months ago (I avoided the film, as continue to avoid Titanic, due to a severe aversion to Leonardo DiCaprio).

And somewhere in my backstory I saw the 2002 film version of The Count of Monte Cristo starring Christ, I mean Jim Caviezel.

Somewhere near the Cape of Good Hope earlier this year an idea for a revenge saga began to form in my mind (and notebooks). In one of my notebook entries I describe the story as "a cross between The Count of Monte Cristo and A Good Keen Man".

Not having actually read Dumas' book would be an obstacle in pulling such a story off, so here I am.

Why I'm Blogging About It

I'm always interested in how writers write. Actually, the mechanics of writing (nowadays: typing) aren't what interest me, it's the thought processes, the obsessions, the research and the notetaking. I don't propose to open my notebooks completely for this or any other project (it's probably even too early to call 'The Count of Monte Cristo meets Barry Crump' a project), but I don't see anything wrong with being open about the act of reading and reflecting on a given book.

Blogging about the experience also forces me to stick to a deadline (let this be my performance contract for the Month of September), and to think critically about the book.

Hopefully, the experience will shine a small light on how this one writer reads, and who knows, if the idea becomes a project which becomes a book, this month might be helluva interesting.

So, without further ado...


Progress: Page 89 (9 chapters). I've also read the introduction and all that lead in stuff.

Interesting (crazy) stat from the introduction (p.xii): in his most productive decade (1841-1850), Dumas "wrote 41 novels, 23 plays, 7 historical works and half a dozen travel books."

Chapter 1: It's interesting how the male characters are introduced with an age band: Dantès"between 18 and 20"; Danglars "25 to 26 years old" (and later Cadrousse "25 or 26" and Fernand "between 20 and 22).

Dantès' discussion with the ship's owner, Morrel, covers all the necessary backstory with dialogue. Sounds more like a play than real life (or a novel).

Chapter 2: "We shall leave Danglars... and follow Dantès..." Example of the dexterous narrative voice. Narrator as stage director. Interesting use of the plural pronoun "we" (narrator + reader).

Dantès as good all-round guy quickly gets sickly.

Chapter 3: "The reader must follow us along the only street of the village and enter one of those houses..." Another example of the dexterous narrative voice, but not "we", just "the reader" + an imperative.

Long discussion between Fernand & Mercedes is again more play-like than life-like. Perhaps it's due to Dumas' theatrical background, perhaps it's an early years of the novel thing, perhaps it's because Dumas was paid by the line and dialogue equals more lines for less writing (!).

"One always hurries towards happiness..." Nice line from Dantès, p.32.

Chapter 5: "... the terrace of which we are already aquainted..." p.39
"as we said, Caderousse..." p.41
The "we" is back. Perhaps "we" also equals Dumas + Maquet (the guy who did a lot of the plotting and surely some of the ghostwriting).

But then the last line of the chapter: "...where the ship owner, as you will recall, had arranged to meet him."

Chapter 6: On trials: "...for nervous people who wish to experience strong sensations, no spectacle can equal it."

"'I have this at least in common with Aesculapius' - they still spoke like this in 1815 - 'that...'" Huge interjection by the narrator. Perhaps a jibe at the conflict between Classicists and Romantics that was still going on in France (Dumas was a Romantic).

Chapters 7 & 8: Chap 7 from Crown Prosecutors point of view, then chap 8 from Dantès' p.o.v. - - handy way to increase the sense of injustice/wrong doing and build the suspense (why is Dantès being imprisoned).


Okay, that's all for today. Lot's of reading to do tomorrow. And the next day...

New Format, New Sponsor for New Zealand's Big Book Awards

(First spotted at Beatties Book Blog)

Once there were Watties, then Montanas, now New Zealand's big book awards are sponsored by New Zealand Post I wonder what they'll be called (Posties? Craig Innes'?).

Just what the New Zealand Post Book Awards will look like in 2010 is clearer today with the announcement of a streamlined format with, "Fewer categories, more judges and bigger prizes."
Books will be judged in four main categories: Poetry, Fiction, Illustrated Non-fiction and General Non-fiction, with a finalist list of 16. A ‘Book of the Year‘ will be chosen from the finalists.

With fewer categories, the prize pool has been substantially increased, with the overall winner of ‘Book of the Year’ receiving $15,000. Winners of the four Category Awards will each receive $10,000, the Māori Language Award $10,000, Readers’ Choice Award $5,000, and the winners of the three NZSA Best First Book Awards, $2500.
For a comparison with the old Montanas, Emily Perkins received $15,000 as this year's Montana Medal winner for Fiction/Poetry ($10,000 for medal + $5,000 for category winner). And gone are the Environment, History, Reference and Anthology categories (perhaps 'subsumed within Illustrated Non-fiction and General Non-fiction is more correct than 'gone'...).