Book Review: Les Misérables

Monday, April 5, 2010

I feel like I've been reading this book for years. In reality it's been two months. But when you're used to spending a couple weeks (at the absolute most) on a book, two months seems like a long time. So when I finished it I decided it deserved its own post.

Les Miserables
by Victor Hugo

This book is an undeniable masterpiece. The sheer scope of the novel is praise-worthy. Then you add on fascinating characters, the complicated plot, which weaves countless lives together, the detailed history of France and so much more and it blows you away. The basic plot (there's no way to briefly sum up the whole thing) follows a convict named Jean Valjean. He was imprisoned for stealing bread and now, years later, he tries to make a life for himself in 19th century France.

The plot is complex and the characters are intricately connected in unexpected ways. I loved the Bishop at the very beginning of the story. His gentle heart and merciful choices make him unforgettable even though he is only in a brief section of the book. The police chief Javert is a villain of sorts. He is so focused on living by the letter of the law that he misses the point of true justice.

Hugo writes dozens of pages of French history in between actions scenes. By the time I made it through his wandering sidetracked thought I'd sometimes forget where we'd left the major characters. I just wish that Hugo had had a better editor. It's not even that the history lessons weren't interesting, it's just that they hindered the flow of the book (at more than 1,400 pages, it doesn't need to be hindered). Apparently Hugo told his editor that he wasn't allowed to remove anything from the book. ANYTHING. Not a single line. Now this obviously shows Hugo's passion for his work and his desire to maintain the integrity of his original vision, but there are editors for a reason. Sometimes authors aren't the best judge of what might improve their book after its been completed.

I loved the story. It's such an inspiring tale of redemption and sacrifice. There are so many beautiful lines in the novel that are a testament to Hugo's talent.

"One can no more prevent the mind from returning to an idea than the sea from returning to a shore. In the case of the sailor, this is called a tide; in the case of the guilty, it is called remorse."

Over all I really enjoyed it. I was able to sink completely into the time period because of the books length and details. I do believe that trimming a few of the historical parts would have sharpened the focus on the plot, but that's just my opinion. I'm so glad I read it. It is one of those books that provide such a rich experience. It's not one I'll read every year or something, but it's a story that will stay in my soul for decades to come.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Yay! I read it in Lake Powell one summer while my family did fun things all around me. They didn't know how to deal with the blubbering Amanda they found on the top of the houseboat at the end.