Book Review:Les Misérables by Victor Hugo**
Things to know up front...
Recommended to: classic fans, historical fiction fans, people that are okay with huge books, people prepared to have their souls crushed several times over.
Setting: Paris, France, during the early 19th century
- No real sexual content. Men and their mistresses are talked about, prostitution is mentioned a few times, a couple's wedding night is briefly spoken of, but if you aren't reading carefully, you probably won't even catch that it's sexual. In addition, any sex outside of marriage tends to be narrated with a tone of pity or disapproval, so there's no really no reason to worry about any explicit stuff.
- I'm pretty sure there isn't any bad language, but if there is, it doesn't go far beyond PG.
- No drug use.
- A bit of violence. A chunk of the book is dedicated to a barricade scene during which several people are shot and killed, but it isn't especially gory.
- Many, MANY deaths, all heart rending. Sob.
- Very long and challenging.
- Overall, it's suitable for young readers, but anyone that picks it up has to be prepared for the length. The unabridged version is 1,000+ pages, and the Barnes & Noble abridged version that I read was still 829 pages. It's ginormous.
Except, perhaps, by this:
But the point still remains that it's long and complicated. I'll do my best, but things are going to get pretty general because there's just so much that could be given away...
Though, for the record, that last picture may be the explanation of the musical. Don't care. Still pretty accurate.
Les Misérables mostly follows the life of Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed himself and his numerous nieces and nephews and for trying to escape from prison so many times. After finally getting out, Jean is man hardened to the world and unable to see much good in anything. This changes when an old clergyman gladly helps him out, offering no judgment. He even assures the police that the silver candlesticks that Jean swiped from the clergyman's residence were a gift to Jean, allowing the former convict to continue on. This inspires Jean to try and live a better life and be a better man, one a bit more like the generous abbé Jean goes on to reinvent himself a number of times under many different aliases, but he never seems to find the redemption or forgiveness he wants so much. He does, however, find hope and love that he never imagined in a little orphan girl named Cosette, whom he raises and cares for until she reaches her teenage years and falls in love.
-The whole plot. Yes, it's nearly impossible to neatly sum up, and yes, it seems like a hot mess at times, but--my lord--is it awesome. I can't imagine writing 500 pages that all fit together, let alone twice that! The fact of the matter is that Hugo achieved something amazing with this hefty book that has little to no loose ends.
-The tragedy of it all. I'm not afraid to admit it: I cried. There was so much depressing stuff going down that I often felt like I was going to be crushed if one little thing didn't go right in the near reading future. The beginning, especially, is absolutely heartbreaking (Fantine, poor, sweet Fantine), but the heartbreak is beautiful. I don't feel that it was ever elevated quite to the point of melodrama (which I find extremely annoying), but instead found it to be believable and all the more soul-crushing for it.
-Hugo's style. So the man may tend to go off on several tangents (even in the abridged version), but he's still brilliant. He has that special way about his writing that truly engulfs you and makes you either incredibly sad or incredibly happy. Honestly, he can make you cry in like two sentences...and he will.
-Jean Valjean, AKA: the whole protagonist package. Dynamic, complex, and interesting, I absolutely adored him. He's the type of character that you are rooting for deep down and the kind whose misfortunes will break your heart several times over. It's also quite nice to find a character that you care for and feel bad for, but doesn't spend his time swamped in self-pity--and, believe me, he very well could.
-The villains. Oh, the wonderfully wicked Thenardiers, so skeezy and plain 'ole bad to the bone. After reading so much more recent books where the bad guy is always more than he or she seems, it was refreshing to find some that you can just hate to your core and not even feel bad about it.
-Cosette. I liked and pitied little Cosette, but I wasn't such a fan of the older version. I know that Hugo was creating a "pure" character, but that made her quite boring: all chatter, no substance.
-"This man was Jean Valjean." I stated before that Jean creates several aliases for himself, and this was all good with me. The thing is, every time Hugo chose to reveal that this mysterious character was Jean, he would use the aforementioned sentence, or something of that variety. I found it a little irritating, but this is really just me being nit-picky again.
It was excellent! It took me way too long to read, and I unfortunately missed out on being able to see the movie in theaters because of it, but I definitely don't regret picking it up! I would certainly recommend that you add it to your reading list at some point in your life because it's one of those that everyone should read at least once! Enjoy!
**I apologize for the weird formatting going on in this post. I'm trying to fix it, but I'm not too sure what's happening! Wish me luck!