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Les Misérables
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Old Monthly Group Reads > Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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message 1: by Nicolle (new) - added it

Nicolle Starting 2013 with a whopper!


Jonathan Terrington (thewritestuff) I finished it just before the end of the year and absolutely loved it. It's a timeless tale of grace and redemption, particularly in regards to grace versus law or legality. It also is a love story, a tale about revolutionaries, a history chronicle and a book that is a social commentary about the responsibility of the privileged and the ruling class towards the poor and downtrodden. Absolutely amazing and worth reading. Do not read the abridged versions however as they are known to cut out important parts in trying to reduce the bloat of this book.


Richard (richardaboxshall) | 11 comments Am about a quarter of the way through and enormously enjoying it so far, but he rather likes going off on massive tangents doesn't he? I adore the way the opening lines give you background to a character that "has no direct bearing on the tale" and fifty pages later you are still reading about him. Luckily the text is very absorbing and although the character in question has only one main part to play, the background enables you to believe in his actions far more than the description "The Bishop of Digne was a good and virtuous man" would have enabled you to do.
I am in the middle of the battle of Waterloo which seems similarly irrelevant to the tale but once again the writing is so good I almost feel I am there.
So my verdict so far is long winded but brilliant, and I still have well over 900 pages to go!


Ctgt I am a little over halfway through and am really loving the main narrative storyline. I am having difficulty with the tangents that Andrew speaks about in his post. There have been a couple so far that, for me, went on too long. I'm not really interested in reading the abridged version, but I can now see why some people go that direction.


message 5: by Riya (new)

Riya (riyaishere) | 29 comments I am very curious about reading this book (especially with the new movie coming out which I believe will be very good; the film with Liam Neeson was AMAZING) and I just read an excellent article about this in the latest issue of Time Magazine.

I am a little intimidated by the length of this book, I must admit.

For those that have read this book and liked it, was it hard to get through it because of the length? How long did it take you to read it. Also, HOW did you read it (did you have a strategy, such as reading 50 pages a day)?

If anyone answers my questions I would very much appreciate it :)

I am still deciding whether I have motivation in me to tackle this challenging mammoth of a book . . .


Heather L  (wordtrix) Mariya: I was in high scholl when I read it during summer break. I was not overwhelmed by the length at all--it was the only book I took with me during a summer exchange abroad, and lasted me the entire two months. I think it would take me less time to get through it now.

While I loved the book in general, I did have some difficulty getting through the section on Waterloo. I had to push myself to get past it, and it took me longer than any of the other sections.

Oh--I tried to read at least one chapter a day, usually before bed, and often found that one chapter stretching into many more. I hope you give it a try!


message 7: by Jennifer (last edited Jan 02, 2013 10:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jennifer Louise (thebookbacklist) Mariya wrote: "I am very curious about reading this book (especially with the new movie coming out which I believe will be very good; the film with Liam Neeson was AMAZING) and I just read an excellent article ab..."

I am about 2/3 of the way through and I think it will add up to about two months total to finish. I didn't set a deadline, because I didn't want to put pressure on myself to finish by a certain time and feel like I was forcing myself to read it. As for strategy, I found my self naturally reading small sections that fit with parts/books within the whole.

If you have time to spend a bit each day with it, then I think you should go for it!


Kiera (krpeters) | 1 comments In my opinion the length is a bit overwhelming especially because of the long tangents, but I would still wholeheartedly recommend! if you really don't have time for it perhaps try an abridged version?

It took me a long time to read because I took long breaks when school got busy and wouldn't read a lick for a month and then would have to get back into it. But if you have a few minutes a day for reading, go for it!


Jonathan Terrington (thewritestuff) Mariya wrote: "I am very curious about reading this book (especially with the new movie coming out which I believe will be very good; the film with Liam Neeson was AMAZING) and I just read an excellent article ab..."

I normally can read a 300 to 400 page book in a day. This one took me close to a month (with other books cutting in on my reading). I find if you set a goal when reading (i.e. I'll read for 30 minutes and try to get 50 pages read) then it really helps you get through longer books.

I definitely agree on the tangents. I don't normally agree with people who comment about bloat in books but this one had a little bloat. Although it did give an interesting historical chronicle sense to the book. Like Hugo was being a historian rather than a novelist...


Jeremy C. Brown | 6 comments Mariya wrote: "I am very curious about reading this book (especially with the new movie coming out which I believe will be very good; the film with Liam Neeson was AMAZING) and I just read an excellent article ab..."

If you haven't given the audio book a try, I'd encourage it! I'll get 25 pages in just while doing the dishes! :-)


Jeremy C. Brown | 6 comments Andrew wrote: "...the background enables you to believe in his actions far more than the description "The Bishop of Digne was a good and virtuous man" would have enabled you to do. "

I had the exact same thought and decided I'm thoroughly enjoying that about this book! :-)


Jonathan Terrington (thewritestuff) Jeremy wrote: "Mariya wrote: "I am very curious about reading this book (especially with the new movie coming out which I believe will be very good; the film with Liam Neeson was AMAZING) and I just read an excel..."

Which audio book version?


message 13: by Ana (new)

Ana | 8 comments i'll start the book these days but i am not sure if a have time to finish all the 3 volumes in january


message 14: by Riya (new)

Riya (riyaishere) | 29 comments Thank you for all of the replies guys! Reading your responses gave me the encouragement that I needed to start reading this book.

I will start Les Mis as soon as I finish reading Flowers for Algernon (by the way, is this book considered to be a classic?) which will be in about 3-4 days.

My strategy will be to read 50 pages each day and try to read 100 pages on days when I don't have work or a ton of errands to run.


message 15: by Riya (new)

Riya (riyaishere) | 29 comments Jonathan, I am impressed! You can read a 300-400 page book in one day? wow!

I can read about 200 pages a day if I have a really good book, but usually no more than that.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

I had been wanting to read this, so I guess now is as good a time as any. I had to order the book online because the local bookstores were sold out (I guess it's popular now because of the movie?).

I'm interested to see if there really is "bloat" in the book. I've heard people say that about Moby Dick but I didn't think there was bloat. Sure, you can boil the main narrative down to a lesser book, but I think the reason these are such widely read classics is because the "bloat" adds to the overall effectiveness in telling a memorable story.

We'll see how it goes! I look forward to checking on this thread constantly!


Jeremy C. Brown | 6 comments Jonathan wrote: "Jeremy wrote: "Mariya wrote: "I am very curious about reading this book (especially with the new movie coming out which I believe will be very good; the film with Liam Neeson was AMAZING) and I jus..."

This is the one i'm using narrated by Frederick Davidson and I'm enjoying it very much! :-)

link to amazon


Jeremy C. Brown | 6 comments Jason wrote: "the "bloat" adds to the overall effectiveness in telling a memorable story...."

In my opinion with this book as with Moby Dick if there's "bloat" it's good bloat :-)


Jonathan Terrington (thewritestuff) Mariya wrote: "Thank you for all of the replies guys! Reading your responses gave me the encouragement that I needed to start reading this book.

I will start Les Mis as soon as I finish reading Flowers for Alger..."


I believe Flowers for Algernon is considered a cult or sci-fi classic at least. And yes I can read 300 to 400 pages in a day if I don't have loads to do! I pushed myself to get through 500 pages yesterday to get some books back in time...


Joanne I read this book when I was in high school and loved it! Then I decided to re-read it last year and found the ridiculously long tangents on subjects like the sewage system, etc to be uninteresting. After forcing my way through many of them, I started just skimming and outright skipping portions. I must have read the abridged version the first time. To be honest, if I re-read it again (which I probably will since I loved the actual "story" parts) I will probably pick up the abridged version.


Jewett (doclibby) | 7 comments I read this as a young girl and loved it and didn't
mind all the side trips. Now I probably wouldn't like them, but this is a powerful so I urge all of you to stick with it.


Jonathan Terrington (thewritestuff) Joanne wrote: "I read this book when I was in high school and loved it! Then I decided to re-read it last year and found the ridiculously long tangents on subjects like the sewage system, etc to be uninteresting...."

The problem is that there is no one set abridged version. The different abridges get rid of different things and therefore one edition could get rid of something important in trying to remove asides and 'bloat'.


message 23: by Alison (new)

Alison O'Neil | 4 comments My first group read! I know very little about the book other than there is a stage show, a film coming out and the period of history it covers. I'm reading on my kindle and I'm 14% of the way through. Enjoying the character sketches and wondering if I've actually met all the protagonists yet.


Emily (efsimpkin) 15% of the way through, bought it on Christmas day totally not realising it was the group read! it's actually a lot easier to read than I thought it would be, I thought the language would be much much harder!


Jessi | 52 comments I have started it but I am only just about to finish book one. I'm reading a lot of other things so it's taking me a bit to read it. I keep comparing it to the musical & movies so far LOL Perhaps I should've read it first.


message 26: by Diana (new)

Diana Pope (dpangel97) I'm 15 and I found it especially strenuous to read through at least 100 pages a day with Les Mis. I don't think that I picked up a good translation but After 2 weeks this book was definitely one to be treasured when I finished it.


Lorraine Sophia (lorrainesophia) | 2 comments Book Two done! Now i'm completely hooked to it! Yea the details are a bit stressing but oh it's so well-written! And you won't regret it! I recommend to read the unabridged version, to go in-depth of the characters. I can feel the "real agony" of Jean Valjean and the "true angelic" heart of the Bishop, and it's MUCH deeper than the broadway & movies (i've seen those two also). There are many things going on which will blow your mind away. Truly a magnificent book...


message 28: by Ctgt (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ctgt What a wonderful read!

You just never know how a small act of kindness will change someones life.


message 29: by Kyle (last edited Jan 07, 2013 12:07AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kyle | 11 comments I just read (view spoiler), and I have to say that it is one of the most powerful (view spoiler). I couldn't help but pause and think about all the various reasons someone might sacrifice themselves for another (let alone a complete stranger), and to what lengths they would go to help someone else. It's one thing to send money to a charity, give money or food to someone living on the street, or even do hands-on charity, humanitarian or social work. But to knowingly (view spoiler)? That takes a different kind of person entirely.

Would I have been able to do what (view spoiler)? I'm not sure, to be honest. Perhaps that is the Victor Hugo's true intention: to get me to ask such questions of myself.


message 30: by Diana (new)

Diana Pope (dpangel97) @Kyle I agree. I think it takes more than taking daily visits to the homeless shelter to truly be a man of pure wisdom. Valjean really proved that in this book. Sometimes the human beings with the best compassion truly DO follow the golden rule.


Melissa (ladybug) (ladybugsdoodles) | 29 comments @Kyle, maybe that is why Hugo started out showing us the Bishop so thoroughly. This was an extremely different Jean Valjean than when he started. :D He started out an hardened criminal (because of the injustices) and became a saint in a way. Maybe?


Carrie | 92 comments Andrew wrote: "Am about a quarter of the way through and enormously enjoying it so far, but he rather likes going off on massive tangents doesn't he? I adore the way the opening lines give you background to a cha..."

I totally agree with you about the tangents. I said about the exact same thing to my husband about the bishop part! I truely was wondering what this had to do with the story! I had to skim through the Waterloo part, he was really losing my interest there. I'm also thinking about counting how many times he uses the words sepuchral and lugubrious! :)


Carrie | 92 comments Mariya wrote: "I am very curious about reading this book (especially with the new movie coming out which I believe will be very good; the film with Liam Neeson was AMAZING) and I just read an excellent article ab..."

I always figure out how many pages I have to read to finish the books within the month. If I read more great but I like to push myself a little. BTW, I have to read 40 pages a day to finish Les Mis by the end of January. :)


Lauren (youratlass) | 3 comments I loved this so incredibly much! The only tangent I had a difficult time with was all the description of the Parisian sewer systems. I WAS SO CLOSE and needed to know what happened.


message 35: by Kyle (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kyle | 11 comments I actually really like the Waterloo part, but granted, I'm a bit of a freak. :)


Melissa (ladybug) (ladybugsdoodles) | 29 comments I also like the Waterloo part. :D


Louise I haven't even got to the Waterloo part yet! Only managed to get hold of a copy a couple of days ago. Reckon I can still finish on time though. Really enjoying it so far.


Listra (museforsaken) | 10 comments Yeah, the Waterloo part feels like watching a history documentary with amazing deeds emphasised. Love that part (though at first I didn't understand why it's there at the first place).


message 39: by Kyle (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kyle | 11 comments Louise wrote: "I haven't even got to the Waterloo part yet! Only managed to get hold of a copy a couple of days ago. Reckon I can still finish on time though. Really enjoying it so far."

Good luck Louise, stick with it! :)


Louise Kyle wrote: "Good luck Louise, stick with it! :) "

Thanks! Past Waterloo now - which was fascinating but kind of went a bit 'in one ear and out the other' in places. Interesting but made for a very slow period of reading and left me feeling utterly embarrased and kinda pissed off with the education system over how little I know about this period of European history.

Now somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way through, so well on target to finish by the end of the month, and absolutely loving it.


message 41: by Kyle (last edited Jan 11, 2013 08:01PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kyle | 11 comments Louise wrote: "Kyle wrote: "Good luck Louise, stick with it! :) "

Thanks! Past Waterloo now - which was fascinating but kind of went a bit 'in one ear and out the other' in places. Interesting but made for a ver..."



So true. Year after year, we teach various degrees and angles of American history (very little of which is actually accurate) and frighteningly little of world history, even when it so directly has had an effect upon the United States (as the Napoleonic area had). Very few people I know can tell me anything of substance about Napoleon (let alone the battle of Waterloo), and even fewer people can tell me anything about why it's important to know about him.

Until I got diverted by other academic passions and decided to be more selfish in my career pursuits, I was a history major who wanted to teach history just so I could do something about the trend of history illiteracy in the U.S.. We place so much emphasis on the importance of Math, Reading, and Science (all of which are extraordinarily important pursuits and are worthy of emphasis, especially since we are even still failing in them despite governments' pledge to support them), yet History and the Arts are chronically marginalized in importance and our entire country suffers because of it.

Sorry, that was a bit of a rant. I suppose what I mean to say is, hopefully Victor Hugo was able to accomplish a little bit of what your history teachers failed to. :)


Louise Kyle wrote: "Until I got diverted by other academic passions and decided to be more selfish in my career pursuits, I was a history major who wanted to teach history"

:O! History graduate fistbump!

I'm a Brit so my experience was a little different. We did plenty of European history but it was almost all 20th Century - First World War, Treaty of Versailles, Rise of Hitler, Lead up to WWII, Soviet Russia etc. All fascinating stuff but done over and over again at the expense of other time periods/places with just a bit more detail and analysis added each time. Meant you knew a lot about a few tiny bits of modern history, but very little about anything outside of that - which you just kind of picked up through stuff like this; reading and TV. So when I went off and did a history degree I tried to chose as much stuff as I could that I had never studied properly before. Limit to how many modules you can do though and I never managed to get on any French history/Napoleonic era ones. Will def have to check out some non-fiction on the period once I'm done.


Jonathan Terrington (thewritestuff) Does anyone want to hear about how Australians only hear Australian history and World War history with a touch of European history? I had to choose to study other time periods like the Russian and French revolutions as electives.


message 44: by Alison (new)

Alison O'Neil | 4 comments British history teacher here! Taught lots of British and European History especially to 11-14 year olds but wider range above that age group. To bring us back on topic I used to teach the French Revolution to 16+ students so interested to read Les Mis from this perspective.


Heather L  (wordtrix) I used to teach the French Revolution to 16+ students so interested to read Les Mis from this perspective.

Ah, but Les Mis doesn't take place during the French Revolution, but after. There's an excellent article I read on this a couple weeks ago, Enjoy Les Misérables. But please get the history straight.


message 46: by Kyle (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kyle | 11 comments Jonathan wrote: "Does anyone want to hear about how Australians only hear Australian history and World War history with a touch of European history? I had to choose to study other time periods like the Russian and ..."

Haha. Well, it's comforting to hear that other countries are blatantly nationalistic in their education programs too (or do I mean terrifying?).

In a lot of ways though, I was able to really connect with the character Marius. I grew up being told heaps of political "truths," like how Communism was simply an evil word, how Liberals are out to destroy the country and the world, and how American foreign policy couldn't possibly have any other motive besides altruism.

Then I grew up. Like Marius, I learned about some history and, like Marius, I was swept away with the passionate flood of feelings about how wrong everything I'd been told had been. When I first started reading Les Miserables, I was trying to figure out the reasons why this novel has had an enduring presence. How could people connect with this novel that was published in 1862?

Well, now that I'm about halfway through, it's become pretty easy to figure out. Nothing has really changed. The problems these characters face are the same being faced today by so many. The passions which stir these characters and move these characters to do radical things (view spoiler), are the same passions felt by us today. Like Hugo's prophetic preface at the beginning of the book, the book is as relevant today as it ever has been (which I guess explains the continued success of the stage and screen productions).

Just like we, in this group, had to find out for ourselves that other countries and histories exist besides the one we live in :), the characters in the book have all been learning about things outside of their experience. Jean Valjean learned that there are other ways of conducting your everyday life to achieve maximum fulfillment. Cosette learned that the world doesn't need to be as ugly and frightening as how she was raised. And Marius learned that just about everything he'd been told about the world and his father was either a lie or was massively colored through a different lens.

So that was my attempt to tie the conversation back in to the novel, thanks Alison :).


Jonathan Terrington (thewritestuff) Kyle wrote: "Jonathan wrote: "Does anyone want to hear about how Australians only hear Australian history and World War history with a touch of European history? I had to choose to study other time periods like..."

Ah yes, I quite like Les Mis from a historical chronicle perspective. As well as the main Jean Valjean vs. Javert thread that runs throughout. Speaking more on history I have always found that history courses are so centred around events which are rather recent, rather than going back to older time periods which are just as important to understand. It's books like Les Mis which bring up those time periods again. As I said I have studied The French Revolution but it touched only a little on what happened afterwards which is our setting for Les Mis. A setting where the people are fed up of all the previous revolution and having new tyrants come into power to replace the monarchy...

As another history aside I do hope that when I teach history I can get away from the Australian History a little. Because, while it may be important to go back over how we colonised Australia and killed lots of the natives the way the history is taught is too often a one sided morality of 'white people are bad' when really there are a lot of (complex and sensitive) issues that you can look at rather than being black and white about it.


message 48: by Alison (new)

Alison O'Neil | 4 comments I meant from the revolution onwards but I wasn't very clear, thanks Heather. Good article too and Kyle I agree with you:-)


Heidi (heidi_ark) | 25 comments I'm late getting started. I've only gotten through a few chapters, but I really like it so far, tangents included!


Jeremy C. Brown | 6 comments Heather L wrote: "There's an excellent article I read on this a couple weeks ago, Enjoy Les Misérables. But please get the history straight. ..."

Thanks for posting that, I found it very helpful! :-)


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