“The author of the introduction I read in my edition of Les Miserables, Peter Washington, didn't seem to much admire the book or the author. He compared it unfavorably to Tolstoy's War and Peace and claimed that "Les Miserables rambles, there are huge digressions and absurdities of plot, the characters are often thin, the action melodramatic." I found that amusing because having recently read War and Peace I thought all that very much applied to Tolstoy's novel, and in more annoying ways that in Les Miserables. Maybe it's that I found Tolstoy's frequent digressions on the hive nature of history rather one-note. If Hugo digresses, at least it's on different subjects.
Though yes, the narrative is even more long-winded than you'd expect from 19th Century Western literature. Hugo's one of those authors who won't use one adjective when he can pile up a dozen in one sentence. When Hugo defends using argot, the lingo of thieves, he makes a good point that professions like stockbrokers have an argot of their own, but not satisfied with this example, he goes on and on for an entire page where a brief sentence would have sufficed. Were you one of those people who complained about Ayn Rand's long speechifying in her novels? Well, she was an admirer of Hugo, and I suspect this is where she got the habit from. I would have happily taken a hatchet to the chapters on the rules of the Bernardine-Benedictines and there's really no excuse for spending that much wordage on the sewers of Paris. But with many of the digressions, even when I was impatient to get back to the mainline of the story, I found many of them worth reading. Skip the chapter "The Tail" in Melville's Moby Dick, and I don't think you'd miss much unless you find the anatomy of whales fascinating. Skip the second epilogue of Tolstoy's War and Peace in my opinion you miss only crank theorizing. But within a lot of those digressions in Les Miserables are insights into the spirit of the 19th century.
Besides, I also rather prefer Hugo's characters to those of Tolstoy. Jean Valjean has the kind of largeness of character lacking in the cast of Tolstoy's historical novel to carry an epic. When Valjean first appears in the novel on page 66, he's been a galley slave for 19 years--initially sentenced because he stole a loaf of bread. Six years later he's a wealthy entrepreneur that lifted his town to prosperity and became its mayor, and likely would have continued to prosper were it not for Inspector Javert. And if Valjean is a hero worthy of an epic, than Javert makes a worthy villain, almost a force of nature, and interesting because he's above all motivated by devotion to the law. And for a full-on black villains, you can't do much better than Pere and Mere Thénardier. There are also vividly drawn secondary characters such as their children Gavroche and Eponine. (Even if I do agree with Jean Valjean that Marius, his adopted daughter's love interest, is a "booby." A good match for the ninny that is Cosette.)
Yes, there are coincidences that stretch credibility and larger-than-life characters and melodramatic rhetorical flourishes. And at times Hugo's chauvinism, his aggrandizement of his nation--much more evident than in Tolstoy or Dickens or Hawthorne--raised an eyebrow. And I certainly don't share Hugo's enthusiasm for revolution, riots ("emeutes") and mobs and I'm to put it mildly, dubious about Hugo's vision of "Progress." I wondered at times, just how much of the melody, the poetry of the writing I missed reading the Wilbour translation. Some claim that if you don't like Hugo, it might be Wilbour's fault. But I certainly found this mammoth epic more interesting than the equally lengthy War and Peace and clumsy translation or not, one with many beautiful and quotable passages.”
“I've read this book several times and it's always a favorite. I love Hugo's writing. He can be very detailed but but is overall a beautiful and emotionally evocative writer. In this bool he captures Paris and the struggles of its poor perfectly. A moving and beautiful book”Jen wrote this review Wednesday, September 18, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I’ve listened to an abridged copy of this a few years ago, saw the play while in New York (a few years ago) and now I’ve listened to the full book. I’ve enjoyed each one. What an absolutely great story of lives lived during epoch changing events in history. To read the abridged or to see the play is truly entertaining but the reader misses the context. This does remind me of Tolstoy’s War and Peace but a much better story. The characters in this book are complex and wonderful; Valjean the escaped convict with a need to redeem himself, Cossette his adopted daughter, Inspector Javert who only knows justice, Marius the idealist. Through these characters we see Paris, we see the revolution, the streets, slang and the sewers among many other subjects that Hugo shares his meditations. The title is a also a key, Les Misérables, tells us that the story is about the miserable. or the poor and homeless people. That this is a story about the poor and homeless makes this a timeless story. This story could occur anywhere but Hugo makes Paris alive in this story.
I liked the Rose translation but the narrator George Guidall made this story. His accent was perfect and he made the characters alive and individuals. I can highly recommend this audio version of Les Mis.
“I fell in love with the musicial first. Then discovered that is truly the end of the book. I wanted to know what happened before then. ”Arianna Curley wrote this review Monday, September 16, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Fantastic book. A must read!”Grant Arnold wrote this review Friday, September 6, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“One of the best books I've read. Its unfair to say that the Broadway musical even scratches the serface of the full book.”Anthony Chough wrote this review Saturday, August 31, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Wow - truly an amazing book. I'm glad I took my time with it, because I think it made me appreciate it even more.”Sherry A wrote this review Thursday, August 29, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I finally started reading this long tome, and I am not disappointed! It has unpredictable twists, endearing characters, and inspiring themes. Watch out for the long description of the Battle at Waterloo and other ruminations on sophists, Napoleon, and the French Revolution. They bogged me down a bit, but Hugo always came back around to his masterful story of Jean Val Jean and Cosette.”Elizabeth W wrote this review Wednesday, August 28, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Well, finished as in I got to the beginning of Cosette before my time was up and I read about the rest on Spark Notes.... X)
It was pretty good. It would be a really interesting story if it wasn't so lengthy and wordy and Victor Hugo didn't like to spend a whole book on "a brief history".
So glad to be done with it. "Yay" for summer reading assignments.”
“Les Miserable Victor Hugo
First let me start by saying that I rate this book 5 stars for its contribution to the understanding of poverty and desperation and for the sublime tale of redemption, however certain sectors do drag particulary the cellars and if I was rating this solely on enjoyment it would have been 4 stars.
For me the Preface sets this book up nicely and explains how important it is as well as the major themes so I will quote it here
"So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the century- the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light- are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world; - in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Miserables cannot fail to be of use"
Essentially the story is the life story of Jean Valjean a man condemned to the galleys for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Valjean ends up spending nearly 20 years in the galleys and leaves them a bitter hardened criminal who believes society has stolen from him.
A simple act of kindness from a Christian who truly lives by the Bible changes Jean Valjean forever, he reinvents himself as a kind, honest and generous man, a man who looks after those less fortunate than himself and never stints on giving, however he cannot escape his past.
Against the back drop of Paris and the surrounding country during the years of revolution we follow Jean Valjean as he seeks to redeem himself in the eyes of man and God.
This is a powerful story which deserves the time and effort put into reading the complete and unabridged version, a truly satisfying read that will remain with the reader long after the book itself is finished.