I have been posting quotes from this book for a while now. I have successfully completed the whole novel. So it is only fair that I write a review.
First of all I must say that this book is huge! 1000 pages, relatively large, with small font, it must be the longest books I’ve ever read. I read the full version, because I don’t like abridgements it is very long book which won’t be spoiled by a bit of cutting, but I just don’t like that someone else decides what I read or not.
The subject of one of the longest novels in European literature is – what else? – the infinite.
Les Miserables isn’t just one novel; it’s five:
4. The Idyll in the Rue Plumet and the Epic in the Rue St. Denis
5. Jean Valjean- the main character
This book is rightfully considered one of the greatest novels of all times. It spans a period of a few years in the life of Jean Valjean – an escaping convict who “switched to the good side”, and the characters around him. The place is France, mostly Paris, and the period is the first half of the 19th century – a very turbulent times in Europe and France in particular.
Hugo famously wrote entire digressive sections of Les Miserables about The Battle of Waterloo, Parisian street slang (argot), prostitution, the case against closed religious orders, the Paris sewers and whatever else struck his fancy. Never one to meet a point he couldn’t belabor, he attempted, in this single volume, to explore the entire scope of human experience as he knew it in 19th-century Europe.
Victor Hugo certainly writes beautifully, his command of the words and sentences is excellent, and the philosophic detours, though tiring at times, are very touching. I hope not much was lost in the translation, but even in English I felt the power of words under Hugo’s pen very well. The level of English is quite difficult – I’m not used to looking up words in the dictionary, but with Les Miserables I was forced to do it quite a few times.
This is a book about everything – right and wrong, love and hate, war and peace, goodness and evil, rich and poor. The characters are very believable, and in fact developed extremely well. Hugo doesn’t just throw random characters in, any one has his place, and is described sufficiently well for the reader to relate to him. This is true about other facets of the book as well: although being very long, you won’t find needless things in it. Everything has a reason, and Hugo knows how to collect facts and bring them together in a masterful way, sometimes surprisingly.
I especially felt for the descriptions of poor/hungry people in this book – extremely credible. Reading the book makes you actually feel sorry for these people, specially children, relate to their hardships, and being thankful to have a roof above your head and food in your stomach. It’s also amazing how strong some of the characters are. Eponine, Gavroche, Father Mabeuf – young or old, these people have been beaten by the sufferings of life enough to develop certain power and a way to look life right into the eyes – something to admire.
The main message in this book as I see it is living with your conscience. What is really to a person is not what others think of him and how they judge him, but what he feels about himself, his inner peace of mind. Jean Valjean was certainly very hard on himself, even after doing so much good. I even felt that he’s a bit too much self-criticizing, but the moral is clear – you can run from the police, hide from people, but you can never escape yourself.
When the reinvented Jean Valjean, driven by conscience, races in a carriage to clear a man of the charge of being him, the unreconstructed Jean Valjean, Hugo throws in his path a comically long list of obstacles, each resolved only after a tedious conversation. But you experience the tedium as suspense. The experience of reading Les Miserables is akin to that of any lengthy novel. For hundreds of pages you’ll be hooked, dazzled, unable to put it down. I want to be able to tell people I’ve read Les Miserables It remains to be seen whether this Great Book is good literature, but there is no doubting that it’s a grand page turner.
His other great novel, Notre-Dame de Paris which I loved , is also known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Lon Chaney, dude!