I've been obsessed with the musical Les Mis since I was five years old and my mother sat me in front of the tape player to learn about "real" music (i...moreI've been obsessed with the musical Les Mis since I was five years old and my mother sat me in front of the tape player to learn about "real" music (i.e. not Big Bird!). I know the songs and the story by heart, but I had never read the book. Granted, at age 10, I tried, but 1400 pages was a bit much for me.
So I decided that not only was it time to read the book, if I was going to do it, I was going to do it the real, unabridged way. Could pieces have been cut from the book? Yes. Did I need 80 pages of history about the battle of Waterloo, no, but darned if one of the most chilling descriptions of death in wartime wasn't buried in all that historical detail of generals and tactics.
Hugo crafted an intricate world around the compelling Jean Valjean, but for me, the true pleasure of the book was in the way in which Hugo really made a character not just of Paris, but of the Parisian psyche and of the Parisian poor, in a sympathetic, but hardly saccharine way. There are no apple-cheeked urchins or charming waifs with a swipe of dirt across a creamy brow. There is a 16 year old girl with drooping eyes and a brandy-soaked voice, a starving 10 year old who would as soon help a revolution as break a row of streetlights for fun.
In fact, it seemed as though Hugo reveled in the details of poverty, creating a chillingly realistic world that was only heightened by its juxtaposition against the relatively ill-defined characters of the upper class.
It is not an easy read, for certain, but it is a worthwhile one, both for the craft in storytelling and for the way in which it brings a country, a culture, and a time we are most familiar with through history books to vivid life.(less)
While I liked this book and was certainly kept engaged by the family drama, and, in particular the first third of the book that describes the origin o...moreWhile I liked this book and was certainly kept engaged by the family drama, and, in particular the first third of the book that describes the origin of the grandparents relationship, I found myself to be most compelled not by the story of the protagonist, but by the story it told of Detroit! The scene of the Detroit riots, the descriptions of the immigrant experience, both in the early 1900s and modern day was fascinating and well-drawn. An excellent story about family secrets and the ripples that our relationships create, but ultimately most engaging in the scene it sets.(less)
I'm not sure why I am always surprised when I finish an Austen book and need to take ten minutes to think seriously about whether it has just supplant...moreI'm not sure why I am always surprised when I finish an Austen book and need to take ten minutes to think seriously about whether it has just supplanted the venerable Persuasion as my favorite of her novels. Maybe it was because the version of S&S I read was a beautiful cloth bound book, or maybe because it had an excellent commentary included, but I read S&S with the enthusiasm and sheer joy I haven't felt for a book in a long, long time. Gorgeous language and sharp, winning characters, of course. But what I enjoyed the most about the book was its incredible structure: a delicate and skillful construction of opposites and dualities gives the book structure and richness, but does not take over the story. Certainly my favorite book of 2011, and probably my favorite of the last three years.(less)