The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

A painting of the hills of the titular island of Monte Cristo

About thirty years ago, I read The Three Musketeers and loved it. Recently, my book club decided to read The Count of Monte Cristo, so I was very much looking forward to reading it. It is the story of Edmonde Dantes. He has everything going for him until it all falls apart in one night. In prison for a crime he has not committed, he gives up on life until a fellow prisoner tunnels into his cell. The two form a friendship that motivates him to survive and find a way out of the prison to rejoin those he loves and punish those who put him there.

This book was written as a serial in the newspaper from 1844 to 1846. It shows. There is a lot of story within a story. It feels a bit like a very entertaining soap opera. However, I was not as put off by it as I was by the interminable descriptions of Dickens or the tedious histrionics of Hugo. Edmonde (the titular Count of Monte Cristo) is a very likeable person for the first half of the book. I found him and his behavior much less likeable as the story progressed.

In the end, this book was much too long. It is literally the length of three books! If not for wanting to find out how it ends and the fact that I was reading it for my book club, I am not sure I would have finished it. One thing is for sure. In the future, I have no plans to read classics originally written as serials. Even so, the story is interesting. I can definitely see why it held newspaper readers’ attention for two years. But I can’t understand why people still love it so much today.

My rating: 3/5

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

A man walking away from a lamp post looks back in trepidation. The background is a giant open book with the book title on it.

In the book club that I manage, we read a book in a different genre each month. This month our theme is works in translation, and we read The Shadow of the Wind. It was originally published in Spanish, and the edition we read was translated by Lucia Graves.

The story takes place mostly in Barcelona, Spain from 1933 to 1955. This era covers the Spanish Civil War that took place during the Second World War. This was a very difficult time for Spanish citizens and is a very important part of the story.

The book starts when a ten-year-old boy reads a book also called The Shadow of the Wind. The boy is captivated and stays up all night to finish it. As he begins to look for other books by the author, he finds it a struggle. And so his young life becomes a journey to learn about this mysterious author of what he learns is a rare book.

As the book unfolds, we learn about the life of the author. In many ways the boy’s life becomes a mirror of the author’s. They both fall in love with a girl forbidden to them. And as the story comes to the climax, their lives begin to intersect.

This book is a love story and adventure as well as a bildungsroman and a thriller. But despite the excellent writing and captivating story, at times I found myself wondering why I cared. And at times I found myself confused between the story of the boy and the author. In the end, I also felt that the book was a little longer than it needed to be. Despite these shortcomings, I did enjoy the novel. I wish I could highly recommend it. But if subject matter appeals to you, it might be right up your alley.

My rating: 3.5/5