Matilda Reviews: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

lesmisHello, fellow bookishly inclined people! Happy spring! It’s finally beginning to warm up here.

In case any of you missed me terribly (doubtful), I apologize for my absence over the last several weeks—Les Mis took longer to finish than expected, I went on a trip to New Mexico (it was wonderful), and then the Easter holidays happened, among other things.

So! Without further ado, let’s talk Les Mis.

Although I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a full ten weeks to finish this seminal classic, I’m proud to say that I did read the entire thing (no skimming or skipping over the historical background parts!). And I did enjoy it, overall. I’m glad I read it, and I’m glad I understand the little intricacies of the story that are glossed over or completely foregone in the musical version.

In my opinion, the plot-driven parts of the story are absolutely fantastic. I love Jean Valjean—he strikes me as a sort of godlike figure (in the vein of Dumbledore or Gandalf, only not magical), and I can never resist a really good character like that. Moreover, not only is he unbelievably strong in both body and spirit, but he also has flaws, which makes him very human. He gets jealous, and angry, and he has a past of which he is ashamed. But he turns his life around and really sticks to his new convictions.

I was not as crazy about adolescent Cosette, Marius, or their romance—I thought they were both absolutely ridiculous in the complete purity and innocence of their infatuation/love for one another. I kept wanting to roll my eyes at them or ask the book, “Really? Really?!” Maybe part of it is the way Hugo describes Cosette (and “well bred” women in general). He seems to be in absolute awe of them, of their innocence and purity and exquisite weakness. I know it was written long ago, but still.

As for the historical sections of the book: you have to just hunker down and get through them. Since I know so little about French history as it is, the historical sections didn’t shed much light on the rest of the story for me, and I was bored almost to tears at points. The entire book is extremely verbose, with every little detail given more than its fair share of attention or allotted background. In one review I read—I hate not being able to link to it, but I just can’t remember where I saw it—the reviewer mentioned that by the end of the book she had this image in her head of Hugo as someone who just couldn’t bear to scrap any part of what he’d written, and that describes it perfectly. It’s endearing, in a way, but mostly I just found it tedious.

My advice? Stick with the musical, unless you have a lot of patience.





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