This is without question one of the most beautifully written novels I've ever read. Jean Valjean is quite possibly the most complex and compelling cha...moreThis is without question one of the most beautifully written novels I've ever read. Jean Valjean is quite possibly the most complex and compelling character you will meet in a work of literature of this magnitude, and the lives and personalities of the secondary characters are interwoven into subplots that make it almost an easy thing to get through the 1400+ pages of this book. I read the novel after seeing -- and falling madly in love with -- the musical, and this is one of the rare cases in which familiarity with one helped me to appreciate the other more; naturally the musical had to cut out and/or alter significant portions of the novel's plot in order to fit a reasonable time frame, but even as I read the novel and discovered all the things that were left out of the musical, my respect for the artistic choices made for the latter were increased tenfold. Of course the characters were portrayed in significantly richer detail in the novel, Fantine and Marius in particular. The adult Cosette, however, is singularly droll in both the book and the musical, paling in comparison to the character of Eponine in both; Hugo seeks to set Cosette up as the perfect angelic virgin, and in doing so, he makes her both unrealistic and mind-numbingly boring -- this is my only complaint about the book, other than the ways in which Hugo sometimes deals with women in general, though you have to consider that he was, to some extent, a product of the times.
Hugo does shoot himself in the foot in one way; his plots are so absorbing that I found myself temporarily skipping over chapters-worth of exquisite prose to find out what happened next, as Hugo had a nasty little habit of setting up wonderfully tense scenes full of suspense and intrigue, only to present you with something like the history of the French sewer system on the next page. But his descriptions are every bit as rich and wonderful as his action plots; my favorite line from the novel is, "Every bird that flies has a shred of the infinite in its claw," which can be found in the middle of a breathtaking paragraph praising the complexities of the natural world, but I cannot for the life of me remember what that was supposed to relate to in terms of the actual storyline of the book.
This book is not to be missed. But if you have too short an attention span, then at the very least, see the musical, on Broadway or better if you can. There is, after all, a very good reason why they call it the greatest musical of all time.(less)