Revenge: A Novel

Revenge: A Novel

by Stephen Fry

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A distinct departure from his popular comic novels, this haunting, provocative tale of wrongful imprisonment and violent retribution is Stephen Fry’s first thriller. A brilliant recasting of the classic story The Count of Monte Cristo, Revenge crackles with the wit and intelligence readers have come to expect from this hugely talented author, actor, and comedian, yet it reveals an intriguingly deep, much darker side of his imagination.
Ned Maddstone is a happy, charismatic Oxford-bound seventeen-year-old whose rosy future is virtually preordained. Handsome, confident, and talented, newly in love with bright, beautiful Portia, his father an influential MP, Ned enjoys an existence of boundless opportunity. But privilege makes him an easy target for envy, and in the course of one day Ned’s charmed life is changed forever. 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. Drugged and disoriented, Ned finds himself a political prisoner in a nightmarish, harrowing exile, far from home and lost to those he loves. Years pass before an apparently mad, obviously brilliant fellow inmate reawakens the younger man’s intellect and resurrects his will to live. The chilling consequences of Ned’s recovery are felt worldwide.
While Revenge breaks new ground with its taut plotting, exhilarating pace, and underlying air of menace, its sophistication and irreverent humor are vintage Fry—a gloriously rich mix that only he could deliver. His first novel in four years is a dramatic, powerful tour de force that is sure to enlarge the American audience for this singularly talented author’s work.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781588363435
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/13/2003
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 902,886
File size: 2 MB

About 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.

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.

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Revenge 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 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.
socialchild on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You can get a summary of the plot elsewhere. I don't do summaries.This is a recasting of The Count of Monte Cristo, and as such, the plot is pretty predictable. The storytelling, however is excellent. I couldn't put it down. The plot is fast paced, and the characters are fascinating. The novel is full of puns and anagrams based on The Count of Monte Cristo, and has enough clever comedy (albeit dark comedy) to satisfy any fan of Stephen Fry.There are a few significant negatives though:Fry's characters for the first half of the novel are fascinating, especially Ashley and Portia, but the depths of feelings toward Ned--hatred from those who hate him, and love from those who love him--seem all out of proportion to the reader's expectations. So do the reactions each of Simon's victims when they discover who is really behind what is happening to them.At about the half-way point, the narrative seems to become less detailed--almost as if Fry were summarizing events. Fry violates the Show, Don't Tell rule by not spending enough time showing how Ned could turn into someone who is capable of doing the vicious things that Simon does. He simply tells us. The viciousness of the revenge and the cold-blooded way that it was accomplished seem out of character--even for someone who had been through what Ned had been through.There is a fine line between The Hero Receives Supernatural Aid and Deus ex Machina, and it is always disappointing when an author crosses that line. Fry does just his with the character Babe. Without giving too much away, this was probably the biggest disappointment in the novel for me--how easy (almost) everything came after Ned met Babe.In the end, the story goes the way of all Revenge Stories. It makes you wonder: if Ned is so smart, why doesn't he see it coming?Overall and in spite of its flaws, it was a pretty good, if light, read.
Neilsantos on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this a lot for two reasons: One, it's a retelling of my favourite novel, modernized. Two, it's a much darker content and tone than Fry's previous comedic work. I'm impressed when an author shows themselves to write in a different direction.
eleanor_eader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was about ten pages into Revenge when it dawned on me that I had read it before. Another ten pages, and I realised I was reading the re-titled The Star¿s Tennis Balls, which I had read when first published in 2000 or so. It was an odd moment of Déjà vu, because I recall having the same feeling a quarter of the way through The Star¿s Tennis Balls, which is how long it took for me to realise it was a reworking of The Count of Monte Cristo. Slow, eh?
Stephen Fry has, however, enough literary clout to make me willingly read a book I absent-mindedly purchased by mistake, despite having read it before and having read the full, unabridged classic to which it pays `ommige a mere six months prior. I suspect that if he republishes again under the title `False Imprisonment, Escape and Retribution¿, I¿ll pick up another copy and be just as tickled.
Fry¿s chief strength is his love of language¿ no one should pick up his work who isn¿t prepared to wallow in dialogue of the frothiest, smoothest, double-edgedest (sorry Mr. F) kind. It¿s surprising, in fact, that he can stop playing for long enough to get the story out (if I had his talent, I¿d just wrap the reader in words until they suffocated in glee, and damn the point), but fortunately he has his gift under some sort of control, and can move characters, theme and plot along at the exactly the right pace.
If Revenge, (or TSTB, if you prefer) has flaws, they¿re minor ones; the updating and recasting feels, in places, suspiciously like a vehicle for Mr. Fry to wax ecstatic about technology and gadgets (now a few years outdated, although he¿s carefully not overdone the opportunities for this). It also rather detracts from the villainy of Ned Maddstone¿s* oppressors; at least in the first instance of their envy-led schoolboy pranking. However, Fry plays cleverly with the reader¿s sympathies; leading it first hither, then stripping it and lending it to another character for a brief time.
`Revenge¿ was as aptly titled to begin with as it was subsequently renamed. The hit and miss nature of exacting satisfaction, the treatment of the `serve¿ on landing ¿ it¿s a `best laid plans¿ scenario with nastiness at its heart. Fortunately, the nice Mr. Fry is capable of being completely horrible, at least in print, and the only `escape¿ is the practical one. I was particularly impressed by the downfall of Maddstone¿s chief oppressor.
In conclusion: would read again. On purpose, even.

*The anagrams¿ it¿s impossible not to wonder what it must be like inside Stephen Fry¿s head. Do any words, at all, get out that haven¿t been wrenched and fondled like a Rubik¿s cube for all possible permutations and patterns?
miketroll on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As always with Stephen Fry, a delightful, entertaining confection of elegant wit and humour. Oscar would have been proud of him.This book was published in the UK under the title 'The Stars' Tennis Balls'. A pox on the publishers for changing it! There should be a law against it!
KromesTomes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The writing was good and I'm glad the ending wasn't happy for everyone.
jennyo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Stephen Fry is brilliant. Just brilliant. Revenge is his retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. At least he says it is. I've never actually read the original. I guess I'll have to now. But I doubt I'll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed this version.Revenge is full of Fry's scathing wit and spot-on dialogue. If you've ever read his fiction, you'll know just what I mean. If you're already a fan of his, go get this book. Immediately. If you've never tried one of his books before, this is a great place to start.By the way, in the UK, this book was published as The Stars Tennis Balls. I'm assuming they changed the title in the U.S. because we're a bunch of ignorant Yanks who wouldn't catch the literary reference. (Well, I didn't anyway. Fortunately, it's provided in the epigraph.)
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
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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