M. Victor Hugo President Hugo Heavy Books, Inc. Hauteville House 38 Hauteville St Peter GY1 1DG United Kingdom
Dearest M. Hugo,
Having arrived at the completi
M. Victor Hugo President Hugo Heavy Books, Inc. Hauteville House 38 Hauteville St Peter GY1 1DG United Kingdom
Dearest M. Hugo,
Having arrived at the completion of my quest to faithfully and fervently examine each and every jot and tittle of your most beloved masterpiece Les Misérables, I would like to express my undying admiration for your work. You possess an incredible ability to cultivate character. Jean Valjean shall reign throughout history as an exemplar of faith, goodness, compassion, longsuffering, and repentance. And that dastardly Thénardier - if I should never again meet a more despicable man in either my life or my reading, I should not be surprised! It has been long since I have met characters - nay, friends! - that have so moved my heart within its cage of bone and flesh. You have bestowed a precious gift upon me with this large lump of bound paper and ink and I shall be eternally in your debt.
However, I must put forth some—admittedly, unsolicited and perhaps unwanted—advice. My feelings shall not be offended if you do not heed my words, but I beg you to retain in your fertile mind that I remain a loyal fan of yours and of the fruits of your labor. My complaints number three and I shall address them in order of importance.
The primary complaint I cannot silence within my meager mind is that Les Misérables is replete with unnecessary digressions. I have conversed with some fellow readers who have relished in these meanderings, but I can find no reason nor excuse for such lengthy historical or philosophical discourse. Yours is a plot- and character-driven novel, not a treatise or dissertation upon your various and numerous preoccupations. Your book opens with a long digression, that of the life of Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In this instance, his incredible life greatly informed and made credible the transformation of your protagonist from scoundrel to saint. However, I fail to understand how the exhaustive history (nineteen chapters, to be exact) of the Battle of Waterloo, the nigh endless investigation of Paris's sewer system, the dissection of the Petit-Picpus convent (which you in your cunning titled "Parenthesis" to alert your readers of a digression) fall under the purview of a novel. The illustrious writers of the Internet-based Wikipedia (which would be immensely helpful to you, I am sure, if you ever take it upon yourself to write a work of history) have estimated that more than a quarter - more than one fourth! - of your novel is taken up by your digressions, which serve only to distract. There is such a thing as too much context.
This is unacceptable for a work of fiction, Monsieur. In the future of your (I pray) long and fruitful career, I encourage you to suppress your desire for nonfictional divagations in favor of furtherance of plot and character, the aspects of authorship in which you excel.
My secondary complaint regards the authorial intent of your book, and for this I must give some history of my own reading life. You are perhaps unaware of the work of an American author, nom de guerre of Mark Twain, who penned a fascinating book entitled The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As prelude to his novel, he writes this threatening notice: "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." M. Twain is anything but bashful in his insistence that he carries no authorial intent within his novel. This also goes for one Russian author who may also have escaped your notice, the honorable M. Vladimir Nabokov, who, in his novel Lolita, explores the deplorable sexual relationship between a stepfather and his only barely pubescent stepdaughter. M. Nabokov has the audacity to say of his book (and of all his fiction) that he wishes to purvey no moral through his writing, that his prose is meant for enjoyment alone. I find MM. Twain and Nabokov remiss in writing such controversial novels—dealing with such dire subjects as pedophilia and slavery, how could they not be controversial?!—without trying to convey at least some meaningful commentary on those subjects.
I do not wish to accuse you of the same fault of MM. Twain and Nabokov, but just the opposite. Your beliefs show strongly throughout the whole of Les Misérables—much too strongly! Allow me to repeat the opening preface of your novel: "So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the century—the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light—are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;—in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use." You have fallen into the antipolar snare of MM. Twain and Nabokov—that of placing what the novel says in front of the novel itself; placing the cart before the horse, if you in your graciousness will allow me the pleasure of one inane expression. In the context of your preface, Les Misérables is nothing but a tool. I encourage you to let your novel be the wonderful story that it is without forcing it into the position of harbinger of social change. By all means, insert your beliefs about this broken world, but leave them as subtext. Let your readers puzzle out the subtleties of your soothsayings. Perhaps you have read M. Tolstoy's beloved Anna Karenina, which I recommend to you as a paragon of the golden mean between the styles of Les Misérables and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Lolita.
Please suffer my last complaint, which is also my most minor. I hesitate even to bring it to your attention and I would sternly warn any third party peeping toms who have surreptitiously come upon this private letter to tread no further, for I will presently discuss the resolution of your novel. (view spoiler)[At the conclusion of the portion of your novel dealing with the failed insurrection by the Friends of the ABC, the emergence from the sewers of Jean Valjean with the barely zoetic Marius in his arms, only to fall into the hands of the robotic policeman Javert, who finds within his chest a beating heart and lets Jean Valjean run free, I was indubitably and unquestioningly yours. This is the climax of your novel, the scene with which you win my undying love. But then comes the milquetoast and, quite honestly, very disappointing falling action. It is at this point where the admirable Jean Valjean metamorphizes into the frustratingly meek Jean Valjean. The revelation of his past to Marius is necessary to the story and expected by the reader. But this revelation should have first been made to Cosette, a much more vital person to Jean Valjean. And rather than having admitted only his criminal past to Marius, Jean Valjean should have related his entire life story, which Marius surely would have requested and which would have solved all problems created in the novel. I find this ending to such a well conceived and thorough novel unfortunate. In future novels, I implore you to let common sense reign supreme. (hide spoiler)]
Let me manifest my admiration for your work once again. Les Misérables is a fantastic piece literature, one which I enjoyed immensely and may return to in the future. The characters living within its pages shall live within my heart throughout my days. However, for the reasons I have mentioned, it has fallen just short of securing its place on the shelf among the my favorite volumes, in the midst of such giants as Homer's Odyssey, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Wallace's Infinite Jest, and McCarthy's Suttree.
Your ever affectionate reader, Christopher Winters Winters Reading and Polite Complaint Letter Writing Services, Ltd.
P.S. I have included a couple small prints displaying works of art simply because I think they are the type of pictures you would enjoy. Perhaps you could use them as inspiration for your next novel. I hope to hear from you soon.
pictured: Paul Bril, "Küstenlandschaft mit Hafen"
pictured: Pieter Bruegel der Ältere, "Die Bienenzüchter"["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I rarely abandon books, and I don't rate books I don't finish, but I really, really want to click that single star so the world may know what I thoughI rarely abandon books, and I don't rate books I don't finish, but I really, really want to click that single star so the world may know what I thought of the first half of this incredibly self-indulgent, relentlessly navel-gazing, tedious, sluggish mess of a book.
I read Fun Home and thought it was really good. Four stars. I called it a "hyper-literate memoir", which is praise. "Hyper-literate" is a fitting description for this book as well, but this time I mean that not as praise, but as a synonym for "insufferable". When I asked my brain computer, "When you remove the literary references and symbols and dream analysis and parodically intellectual psychoanalysis, what are you left with?", it responded with a blinking cursor. Thinking... thinking... Then the cursor stopped blinking. Then my brain computer crashed - the result of discovering that a graphic memoir, the follow-up to a great graphic memoir no less, written by an obviously talented cartoonist, can be so devoid of surprise or delight or meaningful reflection.
When you strip away the intellectual facade, you are left with an unbearably self-obsessed woman and her book about nothing.
But then again, I only read the first half. The latter half is probably amazing....more
I should let a little time pass before writing down my thoughts on this gem of a comic. Instead, I will rave about how much I loved it, how hard it hi
I should let a little time pass before writing down my thoughts on this gem of a comic. Instead, I will rave about how much I loved it, how hard it hit me, how it's such a huge shame that this is the only book translated into English by this French author/illustrator, how incredible its drawings are, very similar to Craig Thompson if you like him, how Pedrosa is one of the few black and white artists I've encountered who can really utilize the contrast of deep blacks and stark whites to perfection, how happy I am that I stumbled into this book in the library without any prior knowledge of it or its author's existence, how he weaves a simple story of two parents' love for their child and the lengths they will go to to ensure his safety, the kind that really punches you in the gut with the reminder that you and the people you love are mortal....more
If you missed the last 600 years, let me tell you about the famous Jeanne d'Arc. Joan, as you're more likely to know her, began as a young farm girl,
If you missed the last 600 years, let me tell you about the famous Jeanne d'Arc. Joan, as you're more likely to know her, began as a young farm girl, but when she heard the voices of her Lord and myriad saints beseeching her to take action against the horde of English soldiers encroaching upon her French homeland, she showed up on the doorstep of the uncrowned King Charles VII with a divine mission. King Charles was so impressed by her ambition and confidence that he gave her charge of a battalion and she defeated the English troops at Orleans. Her career continued with several more victories. She became a national, if not international, superstar - a feminist icon in an age before feminism. She even crowned the new King of France in the beautiful Notre-Dame de Reims.
And then tragedy struck. Joan was captured by the English at Compiègne and instead of being given the traditional prisoner of war's ransom, she was subjected to a politically motivated trial in which she was found guilty by the Church of twelve counts of heresy. Turned over to the secular authorities for punishment, she was burned at the stake.
That's the gist of the story. Certain points are debated by historians - her military role may have been more in the morale department than fighting and planning; my use of the word "feminist" could be challenged (and would be challenged by Joan herself). But she is a larger than life figure. That you didn't need me to tell her story to you at all shows that history has not forgotten her. In 1920, Pope Benedict XV canonized Joan as a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church. And that's when George Bernard Shaw began work on this play, which was published in 1923.
The play itself is not terribly exciting. It does what I just did in this review; it is a pretty standard retelling of the Joan of Arc story. It will keep your attention, but it won't thrill you. Shaw dispenses with battle scenes and we're left with political and philosophical exchanges between the cast of soldiers, officers, priests, servants, and the ever inspiring Joan.
When things get really interesting, though, is after Joan's death. The epilogue features King Charles twenty-five years after Joan is burned, dreaming in his bed, visited by ghosts from his past. It is in this very Shakespearean ending that Shaw finally finds his inspiration, so read the first scenes of this play quickly to get to this, the good part. ...more