Dana Salman's Reviews > The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
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Mar 30, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: movies, classics-and-legends, best-books-ever, favorites, library-books, on-my-bookshelf, read-2010, the-feels, best-plot, best-adult-protagonists
Read from March 30 to April 02, 2010 — I own a copy

** spoiler alert ** Review in the least amount of words: Homo homini monstrum*

If I were to rate this book based on how good it is, I'd give it one star. I say 'good', as in it ends with rainbows and sunshine and happy characters. But it doesn't. It's probably the cruelest, most grotesque book I've ever read. And I'm not rating it based on how it should've ended. I'm rating it based on the hours I spent reading into the night, telling myself this next chapter would be the last and then going back on my promise. The outcome of the story? I hated it. Hate it with all my soul. The story itself?
I loved it.
There's just a few things I want to point out: this book is in no way like the Disney Hunchback. Of course Disney could never bring itself to make a dramatic ending any more than it could bring itself to quit making movies altogether. But I'll treat the two versions, the book and the movie, as two seperate stories, because recently The Hunchback of Notre-Dame has become one of my favorite Disney films. Admittedly now I can never picture in my mind the Disney 'Quasi', Esmeralda, and Pheobus the same way I used to-with admiration and compassion-or without remembering their much darker novel counterparts. But I'm not gonna make comparisons in this review.

Hugo is one of those authors that gives us endless descriptions of the scenery, as if they matter, but unlike C.S Lewis I enjoyed reading them (I'll just admit that I did skip a few chapters because I wanted to get back to the story). One of the few of these sort of chapters I did read was Notre-Dame: you could plainly see how opposed Hugo was to what man has done this monstrous structure, defaced it, amputated its spire, knocked over its statues, rendered its interior unrecognizable from the time setting of this story. This I enjoyed reading. Hugo was more than a historian; he was a passionate rebel. He perfectly captures the background of the fifteenth-century, and makes a point of letting the reader know how different society was back then. In the Disney movie, Frollo tells Quasimodo that the world is cruel and evil outside of Notre-Dame, but Esmeralda teaches him that really it isn't, and that gypsies are kind people. But in the book it is evident right away that the people of Paris are every bit as cruel and heartless as the Disney Frollo made them out to be. While Quasimodo is being punished at the pillory not a single heart is moved, except for that of the fair Esmeralda. The Truands, or the beggars, are likewise heartless; Clopin Trouillefou, king of the Truands, enjoys nothing less than slitting throats and hangings. Their superstitions and strong religious beliefs, though got on my nerves at times, also made the medieval folk seem more sinister to me; the mad preist, the deranged recluse; such characters deepened the sense of devilry in the story.
Perhaps the most heart-rending moment for me, though, was Esmeralda crying 'No! No! I don't want to die!' before being executed. Though she is not my favorite heroine in literature, I could blame her naivity on her age; she's only a little girl. And she was hated for crimes she did not commit or didn't even exist, as were alot of people of that time; by being beautiful, a preist falls in love with her and blames her for his damnation; by teaching a goat tricks, she is accused of witchcraft; by being a gypsy, the recluse wants to see her hanged, not knowing that the girl is actually the daughter she has been mourning fifteen years for. (This concept only strengthened my despair for Esmeralda; she finally found her mother, only to watch her die a few hours later and be hanged herself). Near the end of the story I was coming up with a million ways to give it a happy ending, or atleast to save Esmeralda, some of them impossible. My earliest solution was if Quasimodo had not been deaf, he would've known that the Truands had come to rescue the gypsy girl and she would've been saved. But then, if he hadn't been deaf he wouldn't have gotten such a brutal punishment at court at the beginning of the book, and Esmeralda wouldn't have needed to show him pity. Thus, he wouldn't have saved her.
Quasimodo is another interesting character in the story; alot uglier than the cartoon Quasi, described more like an animal than a man, and impassive about most of the things that went on around him. He does not yearn to leave Notre-Dame. Rather he despises humanity that despises him, and he keeps to the cathedral and its bells; he was the very soul of it, as Hugo says. Although he is not the main character of the book, he is an example of *man's inhumanity to man; only by being handicapped, he is looked upon by society as a monstor. The chapter entitled Immanis Pecoris Custos Immanior Ipse was one of my favorites. Hugo did it wonderfully. There are some authors who think they can write, authors that can write, and authors whom it is impossible not to recognize by their style of elaborate and excellent writing. Victor Hugo is strictly in the latter form.

Some of my other favorite chapters:
-The Story of a Cake
-Concerning the Danger of Confiding One's Secret to a Goat
-Earthenware and Crystal
-The Little Shoe
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