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Revenge: A Novel

Revenge: A Novel

4.6 10
by Stephen Fry

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This brilliant recasting of the classic story The Count of Monte Cristo centers on Ned Maddstone, a happy, charismatic, Oxford-bound seventeen-year-old whose rosy future is virtually pre-ordained. Handsome, confident, and talented, newly in love with bright, beautiful Portia, his father an influential MP, Ned leads a charmed life. But privilege makes him an


This brilliant recasting of the classic story The Count of Monte Cristo centers on Ned Maddstone, a happy, charismatic, Oxford-bound seventeen-year-old whose rosy future is virtually pre-ordained. Handsome, confident, and talented, newly in love with bright, beautiful Portia, his father an influential MP, Ned leads a charmed life. But privilege makes him an easy target for envy, and in the course of one day Ned’s destiny is forever altered. A promise made to a dying teacher combined with a prank devised by a jealous classmate mutates bewilderingly into a case of mistaken arrest and incarceration. Ned finds himself a political prisoner in a nightmarish exile that lasts years, until a fellow inmate reawakens Ned’s intellect and resurrects his will to live. The chilling consequences of Ned’s recovery are felt worldwide.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[Fry] has once again proven that he is an entertainer of the very first rank.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“It’s an old story...but Fry...has the wit and erudition to make it run like a well-made pocket watch. Be warned: the vengeance promised by the title has an unabashedly nasty flavor that’s distinctly British and quite refreshing.”—Newsweek

“In his first attempt at thriller writing, British actor-novelist Stephen Fry doesn’t stumble at all....Revenge is sweet.” —People

“A brisk thriller...smooth, clever, bittersweet, and dramatically entertaining.” —The Seattle Times

Steve Wilson
Most of actor/author Fry's modernized update of The Count of Monte Cristo is engrossing and witty, a good read in its own right with an added kick for anyone who read the original by Alexandre Dumas or saw the latest movie adaptation. Ned is a perfect, if naive, British schoolboy who gets set up on a false drug arrest engineered by jealous schoolmates Ashley and Rufus and love rival Gordon. When Oliver, an intelligence agent, discovers that Ned holds evidence that would incriminate Oliver's mother, an IRA operative, he hides Ned away. After ten years in an isolated room of a psychiatric hospital, Ned gets assistance from a fellow patient named Babe, escapes and retrieves his treasure (a Swiss bank account, naturally). The story couldn't be more fun—until vengeance time. Ned's subsequent ploys lead to the unlikely murders and suicides of characters whose complexities are squandered for the sake of a tidy ending.
Publishers Weekly
Fry is a well-known British comic actor (he was the detective in Gosford Park) who has written several comic novels that are sometimes extremely funny, sometimes simply outrageous and over the top. In this, his first attempt at a serious thriller, he begins well, but ends up going over the top again in a different way. His hero, Ned Maddstone, is a delightful young man, gifted but diffident in that special English way, and very much in love. By an extraordinary set of coincidences, a trap set for him by envious schoolmates and a rival in love combines with an explosive secret in the life of a powerful British security official to send Ned off to perdition in a sinister sanatorium on a Baltic island where, forgotten to the world, he is exiled for nearly 20 years while his personality disintegrates. A meeting with another lost soul rebuilds his brain and will to live and inspires an escape; whereupon a very different Ned is loosed upon the world, a man of mystery and infinite wealth whose only aim is to fetch death and disaster on those who brought him down as a youth. Fry achieves some gripping scenes, and Ned, until his ultimate turnaround, remains endearing and believable. After that the novel becomes a highly schematic bloodbath, and some rather glib philosophizing about privacy and the Internet cannot make the final scenes seem other than heavily portentous. Fry is a writer of real talent and ideas, but needs a stern editor to save him from his excesses which on the screen would be called overacting. (July 23). Forecast: Those who enjoyed Fry's lighter previous work will be hardly expecting something so dark and violent, and it may prove difficult to orchestrate a new readership. Pairing it with the movie tie-in to The Count of Monte Cristo may help the book find its proper audience. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
This novel is guaranteed to open new vistas in the mind on notions of fate, destiny and the "hand of God." The plot, patterned on the Count of Monte Cristo, begins with a group of 17-year-olds in England, and a childish prank that sets the stage for rest of the novel. Ned, son of a prominent politician, lives a charmed life and is madly in love with Portia, who ardently returns his affection. Portia's cousin, Gordon, newly arrived from the U.S., is also in love with Portia. Rufus, with issues of his own, is a convenient ally in the plot hatched to effect "a bit of a comedown for the holy one and his father." They know nothing of the sealed list in Ned's pocket that inexorably links him to the IRA. Life goes on for the schoolmates for the next 20 years until Simon Cotter shows up on the global high tech scene. Rich, influential, eccentric and making inroads into the life of each character in the plot, he counts down until they have met their unraveling based on indiscretions in personal and business affairs. Recommended for a mature audience, this novel is a tangle of personal resentment and social climbing set against the backdrop of political intrigue. Adult subjects and the use of obscenity are plentiful but confined to the appropriate characters. The author is a London-based actor (Gosford Park, A Civil Action, Wilde); this is his fourth novel. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2000, Random House, 220p.,
— Ann Hart
Library Journal
The victim of a schoolboy prank that goes bad and ultimately involves the British Intelligence Service, Ned Maddstone finds himself imprisoned in a private lunatic asylum, where he is kept in a drugged state for ten years before he is allowed contact with anyone else. For the next decade, he falls under the tutelage of a man known only as Babe, an elderly spy who teaches him the ways of the world and aids his escape, setting him up with near-limitless funds. The second half of the novel follows Ned as he wreaks his vengeance on all those involved with his mistaken arrest and imprisonment. This bald description does not do justice to the novel's brilliant execution, diminished only by a protagonist who is not very likable and the absence of true conflict as he carries out his revenge. Still, this is a highly intelligent and well-written story by British actor Fry (The Liar, etc.), the author of three previous comic novels and a memoir. Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/02.] Ronnie H. Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
English actor/novelist Fry (Moab Is My Washpot, 1999, etc.) offers a brilliant, biting, and hilarious account of a schoolboy prank that turns into an international incident and a private quest for vengeance. Ned Maddstone is one of those straight-arrow types schoolboys can't abide. A prefect at Eton, he is the son of a Tory cabinet minister and painfully conscious of his obligations to live up to his distinguished family's expectations-in spite of the overwhelming dislike this engenders among his peers. When three of his classmates hit on the idea of planting marijuana on him and tipping off the Drug Squad, it seems like a richly earned comeuppance for his priggish ways. Unfortunately, the stakes turn out to be higher than even his worst detractors suspected-since Ned also had in his possession a confidential document that one of his schoolmasters (an IRA agent) had asked him to deliver. It's obvious to the police inspector that Ned was merely a dupe, but his innocence is complicated by an unforeseen factor-the document implicates the inspector's own mother. So Ned's arrest is expunged from the record and word is leaked out that he's been kidnapped-by the IRA. Ned himself is sent to a secret psychiatric hospital on the Continent, doped liberally with Thorazine, and told he's suffering from delusions that he's the son of the English politician Sir Charles Maddstone. A hell worthy of Evelyn Waugh? Exactly, though a fellow patient who's an alumnus of MI-5 begins the laborious project of setting this lost young man on the way to figuring out who he really is-and how, finally, to make his persecutors pay, most richly indeed. Engrossing from the start: one of the year's most intelligent andentertaining stories. Author tour

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Random House Publishing Group
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5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1



It all began sometime in the last century, in an age when lovers wrote letters to each other sealed up in envelopes. Sometimes they used colored inks to show their love, or they perfumed their writing paper with scent.

41 Plough Lane,


London NW3

Monday, June 2nd 1980

Darling Ned-

I'm sorry about the smell. I hope you've opened this somewhere private, all on your own. You'll get teased to distraction otherwise. It's called Rive Gauche, so I'm feeling like Simone de Beauvoir and I hope you're feeling like Jean-Paul Sartre. Actually I hope you aren't because I think he was pretty horrid to her. I'm writing this upstairs after a row with Pete and Hillary. Ha, ha, ha! Pete and Hillary, Pete and Hillary, Pete and Hillary. You hate it when I call them that, don't you? I love you so much. If you saw my diary you'd die. I wrote a whole two pages this morning. I drew up a list of everything that's wonderful and glorious about you and one day when we're together forever I might let you look at it and you'll die again.

I wrote that you're old-fashioned.

One: The first time we met, you stood up when I entered the room, which was sweet, but it was the Hard Rock Cafe and I was coming out of the kitchen to take your order.

Two: Every time I refer to my mum and dad as Pete and Hillary, you go pink and tighten your lips.

Three: When you first talked to Pete and-all right, I'll let you off-when you first talked to Mum and Dad, you let them go on and on about private education and private health and how terrible it was and how evil the government is and you never said a word. About your dad being a Tory MP, I mean. You talked beautifully about the weather and incomprehensibly about cricket. But you never let on.

That's what the row today was about, in fact. Your dad was on Weekend World at lunchtime, you prolly saw him. (I love you, by the way. God, I love you so much.)

"Where do they find them?" barked Pete, stabbing a finger at the television. "Where do they find them?"

"Find who?" I said coldly, gearing up for a fight.

"Whom," said Hillary.

"These tweed-jacketed throwbacks," said Pete. "Look at the old fart. What right has he got to talk about the miners? He wouldn't recognize a lump of coal if it fell into his bowl of Brown Windsor soup."

"You remember the boy I brought home last week?" I said, with what I'm pretty sure any observer would call icy calm.

"Job security, he says!" Pete yelled at the screen. "When have you ever had to worry about job security, Mr. Eton, Oxford, and the Guards?" Then he turned to me. "Hm? What, boy? When?"

He always does that when you ask him a question-says something else first, completely off the subject, and then answers your question with one (or more) of his own. Drives me mad. (So do you, darling Neddy. But mad with deepest love.) If you were to say to my father, "Pete, what year was the battle of Hastings?" he'd say, "They're cutting back on unemployment benefit. In real terms it's gone down by five percent in just two years. Five percent. Bastards. Hastings? Why do you want to know? Why Hastings? Hastings was nothing but a clash between warlords and robber barons. The only battle worth knowing about is the battle between . . ." and he'd be off. He knows it drives me mad. I think it prolly drives Hillary mad too. Anyway, I persevered.

"The boy I brought home," I said. "His name was Ned. You remember him perfectly well. It was his half term. He came into the Hard Rock two weeks ago."

"The Sloane Ranger in the cricket jumper, what about him?"

"He is not a Sloane Ranger!"

"Looked like one to me. Didn't he look like a Sloane Ranger to you, Hills?"

"He was certainly very polite," Hillary said.

"Exactly." Pete returned to the bloody TV, where there was a shot of your dad trying to address a group of Yorkshire miners, which I have to admit was quite funny. "Look at that! First time the old fascist has ever been north of Watford in his life, I guarantee you. Except when he's passing through on his way to Scotland to murder grouse. Unbelievable. Unbelievable."

"Never mind Watford, when did you last go north of Hampstead?" I said. Well, shouted. Which was fair I think, because he was driving me mad and he can be such a hypocrite sometimes.

Hillary went all don't-you-talk-to-your-father-like-that-ish and then got back to her article. She's doing a new column now, for Spare Rib, and gets ratty very easily.

"You seem to have forgotten that I took my doctorate at Sheffield University," Pete said, as if that qualified him for the Northerner of the Decade Award.

"Never mind that," I went on. "The point is Ned just happens to be that man's son." And I pointed at the screen with a very exultant finger. Unfortunately the man on camera just at that moment was the presenter.

Pete turned to me with a look of awe. "That boy is Brian Walden's son?" he said hoarsely. "You're going out with Brian Walden's son?"

It seems that Brian Walden, the presenter, used to be a Labour MP. For one moment Pete had this picture of me stepping out with socialist royalty. I could see his brain rapidly trying to calculate the chances of his worming his way into Brian Walden's confidence (father-in-law to father-in-law), wangling a seat in the next election and progressing triumphantly from the dull grind of the Inner London Education Authority to the thrill and glamour of the House of Commons and national fame. Peter Fendeman, maverick firebrand and hero of the workers, I watched the whole fantasy pass through his greedy eyes. Disgusting.

"Not him!" I said. "Him!" Your father had appeared back on-screen again, now striding towards the door of Number Ten with papers tucked under his arm.

I love you, Ned. I love you more than the tides love the moon. More than Mickey loves Minnie and Pooh loves honey. I love your big dark eyes and your sweet round bum. I love your mess of hair and your very red lips. They are very red in fact, I bet you didn't know that. Very few people have lips that really are red in the way that poets write about red. Yours are the reddest red, a redder red than ever I read of, and I want them all over me right now-but oh, no matter how red your lips, how round your bum, how big your eyes, it's you that I love. When I saw you standing there at Table Sixteen, smiling at me, it was as if you were entirely without a body at all. I had come out of the kitchen in a foul mood and there shining in front of me I saw this soul. This Ned. This you. A naked soul smiling at me like the sun and I knew I would die if I didn't spend the rest of my life with it.

But still, how I wished this afternoon that your father were a union leader, a teacher in a comprehensive school, the editor of the Morning Star, Brian Walden himself-anything but Charles Maddstone, war hero, retired Brigadier of the Guards, ex-colonial administrator. Most of all, how I wish he was anything but a cabinet minister in a Conservative government.

That's not right though, is it? You wouldn't be you then, would you?

When Pete and Hillary both got it, they stared from me to the screen and back again. Hillary even looked at the chair you sat in the day you came round. Glared at the thing as if she wanted it disinfected and burned.

"Oh, Portia!" she said in what they used to call "tragic accents."

Pete, of course, after going as red as Lenin, swallowed his rage and his baffled pride and began to Talk to me. Solemnly. He Understood my adolescent revolt against everything I had been brought up to cherish and believe. No, more than that, he Respected it. "Do you know, in a kind of way, I'm proud of you, Porsh? Proud of that fighting spirit. You're pushing against authority, and isn't that what I've always taught you to do?"

"What?" I screeched. (I have to be honest. There's no other word. It was definitely a screech.)

He spread his hands and raised his shoulders with an infernal smugness that will haunt me till the day I die. "Okay. You've dated the upper-class twit of the year and that's got your dad's attention. You've got Pete listening. Let's talk, yeah?"

I mean . . .

I arose calmly, left the room, and went upstairs for a think.

Well that's what I should have done but I didn't.

In fact I absolutely yelled at him. "Fuck you, Pete! I hate you! You're pathetic! And you know what else? You're a snob. You're a hideous, contemptible snob!" Then I stamped out of the room, slammed the door, and ran upstairs for a cry. The President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had finished his sport with Portia.

Poo. And more poo.

Anyway, at least they know now. Have you told your parents? I suppose they'll hit the roof as well. Their beloved son ensnared by the daughter of Jewish left-wing intellectuals. If you can call a part-time history lecturer at North East London Polytechnic an intellectual, which in my book you can't.

It wouldn't be love without opposition, would it? I mean, if Juliet's dad had fallen on Romeo's neck and said, "I'm not losing a daughter, I'm gaining a son," and Romeo's mum had beamed, "Welcome to the Montague family, Juliet my precious," it would be a pretty short play.

Anyway, a couple of hours after this "distressing scene," Pete knocked on my door with a cup of tea. Precision, Portia, precision-he knocked on my door with his knuckles, but you know what I mean. I thought he was going to give me grief, but in fact-well no in fact he did give me grief. That is exactly and literally what he gave me. He had just had a phone call from America. Apparently Pete's brother, my uncle Leo, had a heart attack in New York last night and was dead by the time an ambulance arrived. Too grim. Uncle Leo's wife Rose died of ovarian cancer in January and now he's gone, too. He was forty-eight. Forty-eight and dead from a heart attack. So my poor cousin Gordon is coming over to England to stay with us. He was the one who had to call the ambulance and everything. Imagine seeing your own father die in front of you. He's the only child, too. He must be in a terrible state, poor thing. I hope he'll like it with us. I think he was brought up quite orthodox, so what he'll make of family life here, I can't imagine. Our idea of kosher is a bacon bagel. I've never met him. I've always pictured him as having a black beard, which is insane of course, since he's about our age. Seventeen going on eighteen, that kind of thing.

The result of the day is that peace has broken out in the Fendeman home and next week I shall have a brother to talk to. I'll be able to talk about you.

Which, O Neddy mine, is more than you ever do. "Won a match. Played pretty well I think. Revising hard. Thinking about you a great deal." I quote the interesting bits.

I know you're busy with exams, but then so am I. Don't worry. Any letter that comes from you gives me a fever. I look at the writing and imagine your hand moving over the paper, which is enough to make me wriggle like a lovesick eel. I picture your hair flopping down as you write, which is enough to make me writhe and froth like a . . . like a . . . er, I'll come back to you on that one. I think of your legs under the table and a million trillion cells sparkle and fizz inside me. The way you cross a "t" makes me breathless. I hold the back of the envelope to my lips and think of you licking it and my head swims. I'm a dotty dippy dozy dreadful delirious romantic and I love you to heaven.

But I wish wish wish you weren't going back to your school next term. Leave and be free like the rest of us. You don't have to go to Oxford, do you? I wouldn't go to any university that made me stay on through the winter term after I'd already done all my A levels and all my friends had left, just to sit some special entrance paper. How pompous can you get? Why can't they behave like a normal university? Come with me to Bristol. We'll have a much better time.

I shan't bully you about it, though. You must do whatever you want to do.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

I've just had a thought. Suppose your History of Art teacher hadn't taken your class on a trip to the Royal Academy that Saturday? Suppose he had taken you to the Tate or the National Gallery instead? You wouldn't have been in Piccadilly and you wouldn't have gone to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch and I wouldn't be the luckiest, happiest, most dementedly in-love girl in the world.

The world is very . . . um . . . (consults the Thomas Hardy textbook that she's supposed to be studying) . . . the world is very contingent.

So there.

I'm kissing the air around me.

Love and love and love and love and love

Your Portia X

Only one X, because a quintillion wouldn't be anything like


7th June 1980

My darling Portia

Thank you for a wonderful letter. After your (completely justified) criticism of my terrible style of letter-writing, this is going to be completely tricky. It just seems to gush out of you like a geezer (spelling?) and I'm not too hot at that kind of thing. Also your handwriting is completely perfect (like everything else about you of course) and mine is completely illegible. I thought of responding to your little extra (which was fantastic, by the way) by spraying this envelope with eau de cologne or aftershave, but I haven't got any. I don't suppose the linseed oil I use for my cricket bat would entice you? Thought not.

Meet the Author

Stephen Fry is the author of three previous novels and a memoir. As an actor he has been featured in numerous films, including Gosford Park, A Civil Action, and Wilde, in which he played the title role, and in such popular English TV series as Jeeves and Wooster, Black Adder, and A Bit of Fry and Laurie. He lives in London.

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Revenge 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a cotemporary retelling of the classic The Count of Monte Cristo (and the author makes a sly reference to the original during the telling of the story). The old warhorse of a tale still makes for great reading....who can resist the idea of exacting the perfect revenge for a dreadful betrayal with its awful aftermath? Here the young hero becomes an upper-class Englishman, the prison fortress an insane asylum, the buried treasure a numbered bank account, and so on. A major difference is that (if memory serves me correctly), at the end of the original tale the hero was still likable and had hopes of redemption for his vengeful acts....not the case here. But it's Mr. Fry's story to recreate as he likes, and he does a bang-up job. Warning to the faint of heart: some of the violence is graphic and disturbing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First let me say this: Stephen Fry is a great writer. It's what he does best. His work tends to have a light-heartedness about it that can make murderous treachery seem downright whimsical. Here, though, Fry and makes a departure from his early works, and dishes up a tale of outright barbarism, with very few of those clever jokes that make one want to keep reading. "Revenge" is the worse for it, too. Fry's retelling of "The Count of Monte Cristo" is, in this writer's opinion, far bleaker than its predecessor even pretended to be. It's almost as if Fry is bitter about something and has decided to take it out on his poor novel. Revenge is supposed to be fun, satisfying even. Revenge fantasies are supposed exhilirate us. Here, though, the impact is far different. We find ourselves unsatisfied by the story's resolution, and maybe even hating the protaganist far more than we do his enemies. His inability to forgive a childish prank is downright disturbing. Mr. Fry, Revenge is supposed to served cold, not frozen. In some cases, the vengeance meted out is far in excess of the original cruelty, and leaves us wondering about our own limits, our own inabilities to forgive. Granted, those questions are worthy of our consideration, but there is no escaping the fact that Fry's book is a kind of sieve, and when we close for it the last time we are definitely drained.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pure awsomness
Rachel Anderson More than 1 year ago
Count of monte cristo with british schoolboys. Its funny, thrilling, and full of all things 90s and 2000s. Which makes it all the more remarkable how true it stays to the classic it pays homage to.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Actually, I really liked this book. Modern version of Count of Monte Cristo, very cool. Almost every part of it was great. Tense and dramatic and Simon's revenge was 'thoroughly thought through'. But I think that Fry copped out at the ending though (the last few pages). His ending was pretty weak, and I didn't really care for it because it took away from what Ned had grown into. Fry should have been more daring in the last few pages. Other than that, Revenge is a good, solid novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A glimmering light flashed through the trees. The entergetic and young medicine cats spirit flickered into shape. The gash had dissapeared and she had made it to starclan. The flickering flash of the medicine cat dissapeared in a shower of sparks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago