Tuesday, 30 August 2011

two of four

 Back in April, when I was preparing for and embarking upon my holiday through Europe, I read the first of the four tomes of Le Comte de Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. Recently, having read 7 very satisfying English-language books in the interim, I returned to the great task I'd set myself, and yesterday I finished the second tome. Having reached this half-way point (give or take), I though I'd reflect a little on the book, since its likely to be a number of months at least until I reach its conclusion.

Its length is significant not only in the period of time it takes me to read it. The length, and episodic form in which I assume the book was originally written, affords Dumas the luxury of going off on tangents at the slightest provocation. This leads to strange chapters for smoking marijuana in a cave, the life and love of a Roman bandit, ways to build resistances to poison, whose relevance to the main storyline range from minor to dubious to none. I have to say that I really like this as a change from my normal reading. Knowing that a book is a certain length gives the experience pretty reliable indications of how the story is progressing along the normal story arc, and that details that are included are likely to be relevant later on. The gun on the wall in the first act will be fired by the end of the third. This isn't true in a book as long as this. The gun on the wall might actually just be a gun on the wall, and there is something liberating as an experienced reader in not always having a clear idea of how things fit together, of just reading and discovering.

In terms of the language, everything is obviously contingent on the fact that I'm reading in French. I like to think I'm a fluent speaker of the language, but I would never claim to be a fluent reader, and the reading I've been doing has been accompanied by frequent consultation of a dictionary, and sometimes, in order to look up specific terminologies for 19th century French or Italian clothing, or nautical terminology, or consultation of Wikipedia for references to ancient Greeks and contemporary European authors, which might have been relevant to readers when Dumas wrote the book, but aren't to me. I probably check more than I should, on both counts - indeed, I still have raft of highlighted phrases where the dictionary proved insufficient, and which I will go back to at some point to work out what the phrases or references mean. The going is very slow, but I really enjoy learning new turns of phrase, or some obscure Greek reference about an obscure God or philosopher, or the leading authority on physiology from 19th century France.

So I guess that's some of the observations that I've had about the story so far, more meta than most of my reading, and perhaps missing reflection on the characters or story, but that can perhaps wait until I finish the book some time later this year or, more likely, next year. For now, I will return to reading English-language books, beginning with Continental Drift by Russell Banks, an author I got into a decade ago and put aside for absolutely no good reason.

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