Nina's Reviews > Les Miserables: Volume Two: v. 2

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
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's review
Dec 03, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: favourites, bbc-book-challenge, chunksters
Recommended for: Everyone

You know an author has done something right when, the moment you have finished his book, you want to start it over and read it again right away. Wuthering Heights was that kind of book for me. That story of obsession and dangerous love completely drew me in. Les Mis is another. Because that story of goodness and redemption set in the midst of dangers and adversities is impossible not to get caught up in.

I have fallen madly in love with this book, but Hugo put so many layers and themes into it that I barely know where to start or even how to write this review.

I think I have to divide it into different parts: The characters, the story and the parentheses.

Here goes:

The characters
Hugo has a knack for creating interesting, fascinating characters that leap from the page. Jean Valjean is one of the most complex and compelling characters you will ever meet in a piece of literature, and the story is well worth reading for him alone. Little Gavroche jumped straight from the novel into my heart, and I think he will stay there. Hugo created a wealth of characters, and they are just so very well done – the crooked and rotten, the good and self-sacrificing, the brave, the idealist, the conscientious though menacing, the struggling… oh, I could go on forever. But I won’t, for fear of boring you

The story
The story is one hell of a ride. It is fast-paced, and Hugo throws several cliff-hangers at you. For a novel this long (the original French version is about 1900 pages I think) it is amazing that Hugo can keep the reader interested right until the end (exceptions are made for some of his parentheses). The Champmathieu affair, Valjean and Cosette escaping Javert in Paris, the buried alive episode, and the ”imprisonment” of Valjean in the Gorbeau House especially had me at the edge of my seat. It is reading episodes like that that makes reading such a pleasure.

Througout the story Hugo makes sure to keep the dangers lurking just around the corner. You are never sure that your characters are safe – death, loss, murder, and the fearful galleys are never far away. Plus, not only is there a despicable, rotten family always ready to make life painful for our hero, but the criminals we are introduced to make the sinister atmosphere complete. Not that it is all dreary – you will find many light-hearted, funny and inspiring moments as well. But still, you never know how long it will last.

The parentheses
You rarely see a review of Les Mis that leaves out what Hugo himself called his parentheses and this is no exception. Every now and then, Hugo pauses the action of the story to go off on a tangent. Some of them I can forgive him for, others are just so very boring. It’s not that the parentheses are not relevant to the story, but it comes off as appendix material thrown into the middle of a good story line and it gets frustrating after awhile. Especially because, while the action is fast-paced and interesting, the parentheses are slow-going and Hugo comes off as too pedantic, because there are So. Many. Details! His research is admirable, but really, you just want to get back to the story.

The reason for all the parentheses is, I think, that Hugo saw himself as more than ”just” a novelist – he wanted to change things. In The Hunchback … he wanted to save Notre Dame, in Les Mis he wants to shed some light on the many (mal)treated outcasts in France, and especially to change the criminal laws that made the galleys such a fearful place. And I respect that, and while there are interesting asides (I found the parenthesis on the criminal Argot very interesting) there are, as I said, many boring parentheses that you have to force your way through. Or skip, if that suits you better.

Come to think of it, there are elements in this book that would normally annoy me – Hugo is pedantic and preachy and stuffs his religion down my throat, yet it doesn’t annoy me in Les Mis. Maybe it’s because he writes it in a non-irritating way, maybe it’s because it suits the story, maybe I am willing to accept it because the rest is so brilliant. Whatever it is, Hugo doesn’t annoy me. And I can only urge you to read the unabridged version of Les Misérables. You are going to love the story and the characters, and you can find out for yourself what you think of his parentheses. I think you will miss out if you get an abridged version, so take the time to sit down and read this one. And make sure you have plenty of time on your hands. It takes a few minutes to get through it☺

But it is time well spent!
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Reading Progress

December 3, 2011 – Started Reading
December 3, 2011 – Shelved
December 6, 2011 –
page 568
December 6, 2011 –
page 568
100% "Well, I am on page 568, but as Vol. 2 started on p. 497, I have not yet read 57%. Probably only 7% but oh, boy, this is good!"
December 9, 2011 –
page 630
100% "I want to rave about the brilliancy of this book. Little Gavroche totally made my day when he gave M. Mabeouf some money"
December 14, 2011 –
page 770
December 20, 2011 –
page 900
December 23, 2011 – Shelved as: bbc-book-challenge
December 23, 2011 – Shelved as: favourites
December 23, 2011 – Finished Reading
January 8, 2013 – Shelved as: chunksters

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