Rick's Reviews > The Last Day of a Condemned Man

The Last Day of a Condemned Man by Victor Hugo
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's review
Jun 16, 12

bookshelves: fiction
Read in April, 2012

A strong example of literary advocacy, Hugo’s novella is an intimate look at a convicted murderer’s last day of life. It is a polemic against the death penalty but one where the story and the argument have a narrative integrity that doesn’t thumb the scales. It’s possible to read this fine story and think differently than the author but he will challenge all readers on the inhumanity of killing another human being by the state. Hugo writes in the first person, tracking the emotions of the condemned man as they shift and knot, tighten like a noose and snap, during the course of the day—remorse, fear, shame, disgust, rebellion, denial, sorrow, anger. Even at his most pitiful Hugo presents him as a human figure and compels the reader to weigh the fact that his execution is in our name. In 19th century France there is a carnival aspect to executions which brings out the prurient and the commercial, imagine an aroused Jerry Springer audience and people selling postcards and snacks. I’m not sure that our discrete-behind-prison-walls with minimal witnesses-way is better. It is designed to be more civilized or perhaps just more protective of an institution that we might not be able to stomach were its reality not thoroughly hidden from us. Hugo does not hide what it is like to live one’s last day before execution.

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