{Book Review} Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean – the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread – Les Misérables (1862) ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them onto the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose. Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait which resulted is larger than life, epic in scope – an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart. This Signet Classic edition is a new version translated by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, based on the classic nineteenth-century Charles E. Wilbour translation.*

You might have wondered how come there are copies of Les Misérables out on the market with only 500 pages while there are others that are a staggering ~1500 pages long. What could possibly be in the unabridged version that only a third of the book remains for abridged consumption? I am not going to lie. I totally understand how a thousand pages could be shaved off and honestly, you could still get the meatiest parts of the plot. Victor Hugo has a knack for relating the histories of the most obscure things in painfully long paragraphs filled with meticulous details that you could live the rest of your life not knowing. There are whole chapters on battles (those were interesting for me), goings-on in secluded convents (slightly interesting), and sewers (not at all). It’s crazy and even the most patient reader could get a tad annoyed. If you are to read Les Misérables, though, I would still insist on reading the unabridged version. All 1463 pages of it, like my paperback version. In all its full glory.

Why?

(WARNING: As E.M. Forster would say: ‘One always tends to overpraise a long book, because one has got through it.’ So get ready.)

Les Misérables is one of the most thought-provoking, beautiful, and thorough books I have ever read. I know I use ‘beautiful’ quite a lot in my past reviews, but this is just a whole other level. It transcends beauty. I picked up the book expecting to read about some character’s life journey, because that’s the only way this book could reach that many pages, right? Wrong. I expected to get myself acquainted with the characters and their lives, but in the end I got their entire world. This goes complete with history, geography, politics, with bonus philosophy, and several others things thrown in that I certainly didn’t bargain for, but you know what? For all the difficulties reading those things gave me, I loved it.

Hugo’s (somewhat) helpful supplications of history and explanations gave me the background information I didn’t know I needed, making me appreciate the setting more. I felt like I lived within French society in the early 19th century because of the information I gathered that only a resident could possibly know.

And goodness, the characters. I cannot even begin to say how much I loved them all. Hugo’s detailed descriptions of their personalities, back stories, memories, thoughts, actions, and internal conflicts created a myriad of people with intersecting lives, making the main parts of the story very interesting. I particularly love Jean Valjean, Fantine, Gavroche, Enjolras, and Eponine, but honestly, you could like any character and I wouldn’t be surprised. They all had several facets in their personality that goes beyond your first impression of them. You couldn’t help but understand why they do what they do once you understand their motives. I really felt sorry for all their hardships, even the difficult ones, because you know they all need to survive, but only do them in their own ways.

I was lurking around Goodreads when I stumbled across this quote by Mick Foley:

“A big book is like a serious relationship; it requires a commitment. Not only that, but there’s no guarantee that you will enjoy it, or that it will have a happy ending. Kind of like going out with a girl, having to spend time every day with her – with absolutely no guarantee of nailing her in the end. No thanks.”

When you pick up Les Misérables, don’t expect to read something gripping that’s supposed to make you fly through the pages till the end. There are several books out there for that purpose, and Hugo never meant for it to be like that. Don’t expect happy endings. Sometimes a perfect ending is nothing you expect it to be. Don’t expect instant enlightenment. Like the characters, you would have to journey and think about it for a while. Do expect a commitment. It’s not going to be easy reading this book, but I promise, it will be worth it. Don’t leave it, and it won’t leave you. Do expect change. The two weeks it took me to read through this book turned out to be my own personal journey, because when I finished it, I honestly wanted to be a better human being. Really! I know it sounds preposterous and silly, but it’s true. I feel engulfed in a halo because I swear, the book changed me. I may forget some characters’ names, or some parts of the book, but I will never forget the emotions it got out of me and the way it has touched and inspired me in so many ways.

Les Misérables is a beautiful story of humanity in all its forms, good or bad, in all its beauty and filth, in all its problems and triumphs, as it goes through life in its constant struggle for redemption. Just please, please, please, read it and be inspired.

PS
I feel the need to mention the highly successful musical and film adaptations here. I loved them so, so much. I am pretty much still reeling from watching Les Misérables in the cinema last night. If you loved them, I promise you, you will love the book. It’s all really beautiful.

PPS

Day 6: Or, it’s already been six days since you finished the book. Just get over it already. To which my heart says: No.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 5/5

1463 pages
Author: Victor Hugo
Original Language: French
Published: 1862
Genre: Classic, Drama

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2013 Reading Resolutions and Required Reading for January!

It’s already 3 days into 2013, but I’m going to say this anyway: Congratulations for surviving the “apocalypse” and the roller coaster that was 2012 (for me, anyway)!! *throws confetti* And because it’s the first post of the year, I think it would be fun to join a reading challenge that will add some spice into my reading adventures for the year. Are you ready? This year, I’m finally going to join this! 

Required Reading: January

It’s a challenge hosted by the awesome-possum Tina over at her blog. She explains it best, so I’m going to ~*casually*~ lift the mechanics from her blog entry about it:

Required Reading is a reading challenge that is really about getting some books off the Mt. TBR. Just as the name of the challenge meant, Required Reading is about choosing some books that must be read within the month. It doesn’t have to be the only books you read in a month, but they should be read (or at least, started) before the said month ends.

I had some rules on this last year that really applied to me, but in case other people want to join me, here are the rules:

  • Books chosen for the challenge should be in the current TBR pile as of the month of the Required Reading post. So if you decided to join at March, the books you choose for the month should be in your TBR pile as of February.

  • Galleys and ARCs can be included.

  • Posting reviews aren’t necessary (but don’t you want that out of the way, too?).

  • I’ll be posting a theme every month but you don’t have to follow that. You can choose a theme for yourself if you want to — what’s important is the books that you put there are books that you want to get to reading.

  • Lastly: have fun. If you don’t finish a book, it’s okay! If you finish it, then…feel free to reward yourself with something. Like a new book. 😀

I think I’m going to enjoy doing this, because despite my abysmal powers of organization, I actually like planning what I’m going to read ahead of time. Even though I often like to wing it and just read whatever I haven’t read yet on my shelf, there is always that one book (or two, or three) that I personally need to read. That’s my reading resolution for this year, by the way – to make sure to read what I plan to read, no matter what other book I spontaneously pick up. Oh, and also to try everything within my power to not fall into a blogging slump (as in, at least post something per month!). I know the following year will be challenging for me time-wise, what with thesis stuff coming up, but I’m taking baby steps to being more organized. I even made spreadsheets and everything, inspired by my super organized bookish friend Angus

So what’s in my list for this month? There are only two:

  and 

                           Les Misérables by Victor Hugo                                               Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I don’t think I’ll be following a theme monthly, but based my picks this month, the theme would have to be Film Adaptations. Then again, I just realized that I always scramble to read the book before the movie anyway, so maybe this will be the recurring theme after all!

Also, if I manage to squeeze in another book after these two, I would read The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. I’ve read the synopsis, and it got me interest. Also, I actually really want to see the movie for this too. 

I’m pretty sure these books will keep me busy throughout the month, but since I originally planned to read 75 books this year, I hope I get to read some more, too. If not, well, there’s always the sem break to look forward to, for catching up. 

Looking at my books this month, I’m actually pretty excited. I think this will be another marvelous year of reading for me, don’t you think? January always gives me so much hope and excuses to start something new. I love it!

So, what’s on your list?