Jason's Reviews > Les Miserables

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
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's review
Aug 08, 13

** spoiler alert ** To be clear, I did not read the 112 page Kindle version of this book, which is the edition listed. I read a Barnes and Noble abridgment which had 829 large, small-print pages, and was still missing about 400 pages, almost all of which had nothing to do with the story! (Hugo likes to add history, culture, or geography lessons in the middle of his stories, not to mention an occasional political sermon). I think the entire tale can be adequately told in 300 pages, but if one wants to also savor Hugo's rich flavor, then 500-600 pages would do it nicely.

Hugo is one of the most verbose writer's I've ever read. I knew it had the propensity to get rough from the third sentence on the very first page, which reads as follows: "Although it in no manner concerns, even in the remotest degree, what we have to relate, it may not be useless, were it only for the sake of exactness in all things, to indicate here the reports and gossip which had arisen on his account from the time of his arrival in the diocese." Wow. He basically is saying "this here sentence is unnecessary, but I'm gonna tell it to you anyway with a follow-up paragraph." If "the journey" is not your cup of tea in literature, and you prefer the story itself, then I suggest skipping this book (or perhaps reading the 112 page Kindle version). The description of Fantine's beauty goes on for several paragraphs. We are even told what the slight divot beneath her nose looks like (though I can't remember how it was supposed to be different from anyone else's; they aren't exactly defining features. I'm pretty sure it was supple, though). Sometimes paragraphs, if not several pages, are devoted to descriptions of road systems, and whatnot. In those cases I often wished Hugo had used a picture instead of the thousand words. Anyway, while he's wordy as hell, his style as far as sentence structure and whatnot is AWESOME!

The characters are often of extreme bends. The Bishop and Valjean are nearly impossibly righteous in their actions, but we get a lot of Valjean's internal conflict in the telling. Javert is impossibly rigid in his adherence to duty; so rigid, in fact, that he commits suicide at the end of the book rather than live with the fact that for once in his life he chose to be merciful for a couple of minutes instead of stick to the letter of the law. There are many quotes about Javert that I love, but I'll put just one on here. It's not even my very favorite (because I can't pick only one), but I still really like it. "He was free from vice, we have said. When he was satisfied with himself, he allowed himself a pinch of snuff. That was his link to humanity. It will be easily understood that Javert was the terror of all that class which the annual statistics of the Minister of Justice include under the heading: People without a fixed abode. To speak the name of Javert would put all such to flight; the face of Javert petrified them. Such was this formidable man." To use a colloquial term to sum up Javert, I offer this: Fucking BAD-ASS!

Thenardier is much more wretched in the book than he is in the musical. In the musical he's a bumbling sort of crook. In the book he's much more efficient, and I found myself wishing from time to time that someone would give him the axe. The Thenardiess is an awesome character in just how wretched and mean she is. Gavroche is an awesome character in just how witty and on top of things he is, not to mention he lives in deplorable conditions, but always makes the best of his situation; nothing seems to get him down.

Marius is much more interesting in the book. I was somewhat dreading the love story part of this book because it's so sappy in the musical. Don't get me wrong; there's plenty of sap, but Marius is nothing close to the milksop portrayed in the play. Cosette, on the other hand, doesn't have a lot of personality differences, but that's not surprising since Hugo was a bit of a male chauvinist pig, according to rumor. He treated many women in his novels with disdain; they were just objects that served a further end, mostly.

Fantine, however, had more personality, and was given more prominence than the other women, and the story of her life, delusions, death, burial, and memory of her is one of the saddest stories I've ever read. The poor girl never once catches a genuine break, not even after she dies.

Personally I was imbued with the bishop, Valjean, and Javert simultaneously. They all had characteristics I admire, and try to emulate. This book spoke to that part of me loud and clear, and that's always the sign of a good book (in my book, yaw haw haw).

I was tempted to remove one star from my rating due to some of the unnecessary verbosity, but I never really minded it. It was tedious, yes, but I normally laughed my way through it, chuckling at how ridiculous it was as I read along. So, it stays at 5 stars.

I'll end this with a quote that really struck out to me towards the end of the book: "And Marius, ignorant of the real scene of the battle-field of Waterloo, did not know this peculiarity, that his father was, with reference to Thenardier, in this singular situation, that he owed his life to him without owing him any thanks." It reminds me that I can give credit to something happening because of something someone else did, but I don't have to be thankful to them for it. After all, Rudy Giuliani would never have been able to show his ability to pull people together in a crisis and be a true leader (and subsequently become Time's "Man of the Year)" had it not been for Osama Bin Laden and the September 11th attacks, but he certainly doesn't owe him any "thanks" for that. However, I do have to be careful with that line of thought, because it could keep me from expressing gratitude. Anyway, it makes me think, and that's another sign of a good book.

I strongly recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading (because you have to do a lot of it to make it to the end of this one).

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