I recently found out that this book is a re-telling of The Counte of Monte Cristo and felt seriously stupid that I hadn’t known that! Regardless though, I really enjoyed it and am all set to read the classic it’s based on soon.
The book centres on Ned Maddstone, a young man who has it all, such as looks, brains, a beautiful girlfriend. He’s set to go to Oxford University after he finishes school and is expected to follow his father into politics after. Ned’s apparent life of privilege has drawn jealousy and he’s the subject of a prank that goes disastrously wrong, landing him in a psychiatric hospital with his life in tatters. We then follow Ned during his time at the psychiatric ward where he becomes intimately acquainted with another patient, Babe, and plans the destruction of those responsible for his incarceration.
The book begins with letters between Ned and his girlfriend Portia. This was a good way to begin, and even though they both seemed ridiculously over-the-top in consideration of their infatuation with each other, it did set the tone well as it gave an intimate portrayal of the key players. It also served to alert me to the fact that the story would be very character-driven. Reading Ned’s letter of reply, we discover how naïve he is and soon realise that this’ll prove his downfall. From there we’re pretty much thrown into the action when Ned reads part of the diary of a guy called Ashley from his school. When Ashley discovers that his diary has been read by Ned, his hatred of him grows and culminates in a prank that reaches much further than initially intended.
I love how Stephen Fry constructs a story, his turns of phrase and use of language. His real strength is his character construction though. It means that when little details don’t seem completely believable, as happened here a few times, I was able to disregard it.
While Ned was ridiculously naive to begin with, I watched him grow and change. The main villain of the book, Ashley, was very well done and while he was impossible to like, I really enjoyed the parts where he featured. Babe, Ned’s friend in the psychiatric facility, was also a great character; very eccentric and fun. The rest of the characters were more minor, but still engaging.
As I’ve found with this book and the other of Stephen Fry’s I’ve read called Making History, an alternative history/time-travel story, I did have to suspend my disbelief at events a few times, as mentioned above. This was especially true in the beginning, but continued in smaller amounts later. Some of the actions of the characters didn’t seem completely believable either, but because I loved Ned so much and was desperate to know how things turned out for him, I ignored this.
There wasn't any real tension, maybe a bit at the beginning and the end, but it was about far more than that, primarily how Ned coped with his fate and how his revenge altered the lives of those it touched.
It goes without saying that I can’t wait to read The Counte of Monte Christo and see how this compares.