Finally, after more than a year, I have finished reading the unabridged version of the Count of Monte Cristo. As promised, here are my concluding thoughts.
As I mentioned earlier, I started with an abridged version, but liked the story so much I decided to switch to the full version after a couple hundred pages. I don't normally even start abridged versions, but in this case, the version that is most common (in fact the first version translated into English) is abridged, but via the magic of the Internet, I was able to easily obtained the unabridged from Amazon. Weighing in at 1468 pages, its not a light undertaking, but I found it well worth it. It does have that 19th "I'm taking my sweet time" style, but less so than the English and US works I've read from the same period. In fact it feels downright modern by comparison.
The book was originally published as a serial, and that's apparent from the structure. At times it feels Dumas was in no hurry to conclude, but while some chapters feel decidedly tangential (if still entertaining), none of it is simply irrelevant filler. Both the beginning and the ending are fast paced, and the payoff (its established early that its a revenge story, so you can guess the payoff) is worth the wait.
If you've seen the movie of the same name, you don't know anything about the ending (it was completely changed), and very little about the rest of the story, so if you have a hankering a long journey, this one's well worth the trip. My strategy was to read one (maybe two) chapters at a sitting, treating them as the serial entries they are, savoring each on its own merits, and returning to the story as time and inclination permitted. Because of its structure, I was able to set it down and pick it up at even lengthy intervals with minimal page flipping (although I did do that a fair bit to confirm and marvel at some of the intricate character interaction, but that would have necessary regardless).
That the beginining is captivating and the ending face-paced is not to say that the middle is boring, but it is slower. It features a constant steady feeling of slowly increasing pressure (like a killer storm taking its time to build to full fury). While it would provide similar (if significantly shorter) effect to read the abridged, it is a lesser story in every way; several gems are absent altogether, as I learned by comparing my two copies. The middle is also where Dumas paints his brilliant portrait of 1830's Paris and Europe.
All in all, this will be one of the most memorable fiction reads I've ever undertaken. Dumas was a masterful storyteller, and this story of adventure, drama and revenge (in the biblical sense) is considered one of his best. The tale is of such complexity that it feels like he can't possibly bring it all together, but he does. It is clear he is working with large themes, and the plot is resolved consistent with those themes (I thought the denouement of Danglars particularly fitting). Finally, its a great picture of French and European culture of the mid 19th century, and provides a whole new way to look at the latter Napoleonic period and later.
In short, not a light read, but a great one. I am glad I took the time to read it.