Sunday, June 19, 2016

My Les Misérables Book Review


To kick things off, here's the review of Les Mis I wrote the morning after finishing it. It's not very well-written or coherent(let's blame it on the brick-induced lack of sleep), but it seems an appropriate way to begin my posts here!

~~~
Victor Hugo's tale of injustice, heroism, and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat--by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place--and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert...A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérables is a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830. (-from the back cover on the Norman Denny translation)

I finished Les Miserables!!!! It took me 79 days, but it's done now. 


You'd have no idea how many times I fell asleep reading it. Sometimes in the morning my mom would walk into my room to wake me up, and find me slumped over that book(I call it "that book", because "Les Misérables" is getting tiresome to type). I was at page 900-something a few days ago, and planning to finish it some time before December ended, but then I thought, "You know what, I'm just going to finish this now," so I spent, like, 5 hours each day, pushing through it.  I even stayed up till 2:30 one night(impossible without black tea and my Pirates of the Caribbean Pandora station). Wow.

The book stretched for quite some length, 1,222 pages to be exact, and effectually this review will be 1,222 words. Ready?

Oh, and one note before things get started, spoilers will mainly be marked, so feel free to read even if you haven't tried the book yet!

~~~

To start, I'd like to address some the common concerns one hears for Les Miserables.

Firstly, you've probably heard someone complain about the length. And, that someone is right to do so. Admittedly, Les Miserables is a thick novel. In fact, it's over four times longer than Pride and Prejudice.

In a way, the length can be attributed to Hugo's tangents, which, I must write, are inexcusable. While visiting the library Thursday, I found a copy translated by Norman Denny(mine was by Charles Wilbour). Being in a strong Les Mis-craze, I read the introduction. I'll quote it here, as many of his points parallel mine.


But some of the digressions, or interpolations, are still indefensible, the most flagrant being the account of the Battle of Waterloo, which occupies the third book of Part Two. It is sub-divided into nineteen chapters filling sixty-nine pages of the closely printed French text, and only the last chapter, seven pages long, has any real baring on Hugo's story...tremendous though it[Hugo's account of Waterloo] was, [it]had no more to do with the story of Les Miserables than any other major historical event that had occurred during the century. -Norman Denny

  But, without the longer tangents, the work would still carry on for 1,000+ pg., which leaves the rest to be attributed to the pure scope of the narrative(also, perhaps, general wordiness on his part). Hugo skillfully worked multiple characters' stories together, introducing new plot twists every other page(yeah, that was an exaggeration).

So, was it too long? Yes.

Should it have been pages, and pages, and pages shorter? No.


Another popular concern(quite possibly the most popular) relates that the story is too miserable,too sad, and too many characters die. Also, tied into that, are the disturbing morals of some of the main characters.

Yes, the story is miserable, but please don't forget: it is named Les Misérables(poor wretches). Obviously, Hugo didn't intend to write a happy novel, bursting with smiles, or ending with a contented-sigh-worthy conclusion. Quite the contrary; to preface one 18 pg. digression over French slang, he writes--
When thirty four years ago the narrator of this grave and gloomy storyintroduced into a work written with the same aim as the present, a robber talking argot, there was amazement and clamour. 
However, I will concur that certain sad aspects could've been avoided.

*Spoilers*


For example, I believe Hugo should have killed off the barricade boys. Even Enjolras. He spared Marius, for which I am ever so grateful, but more than one survivor of that failed 2nd French revolution would've been going to far.


Character deaths which I didn't find necessary?

1. Madame Thénardier

2. Jean Valjean

3. Gavroche

And that's only three!

Eponine should have died because she never would've been happy without Marius,

Fantine should have died because she never would've been happy without Cosette, and

the Bishop should have died because he was old and already happy.

*End of Spoilers*

Don't misinterpret this, the character deaths hurt me just as badly as they did any other Les Mis fan, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't have done the same if I were Les Miserables's author. *ducks*

Lastly, readers(myself included) dislike Hugo's disregard for the "show me, don't tell me" skill. I have nothing to refute this. That, and the tangents were his largest flaws.

Now that I've scratched the surface of those ideas, I can move to praise for Les Mis.

The Characters(awesome people, by the way)

Jean Valjean-


 He's been promoted to one of my top favorite characters, like, ever. Just wow.

*Spoilers* 

I cried when he died. It wasn't faaaaaaair!



Cosette uttered a piercing cry:
"Father! my father! you shall live. You are going to live. I will have you live, do you hear!"
Jean Valjean raised his head towards her with adoration.
"Oh yes, forbid me to die. Who knows I shall obey perhaps. I was just dying when you came." 

*End of Spoilers*

Fantine- I do wish he'd spent just a wee bit more time on her. She's well-developed, anyways.

Hugo liked to make assertions about his characters instead of allowing the readers to think as they'd like, and he continued this practice for Fantine, but as far as my memory serves, he never went out and said, "Fantine did all of this for Cosette, disregarding her own personal needs." The preceding sentence is a conclusion I drew after reading her narrative, and it stuck better than if he had flat out told me.

There's one example of a successful "show me, don't tell me" implementation.

Cosette-

Mehhhh. It's not that I hated her or anything, but, I wish she had done something a little more than fall in love and marry Marius("marry Marius" is fun to say, isn't it?).

The Bishop-

Um, did I need to read his 50 page biography?


No, no, he was my favorite at first, I just got tired of his life after a while. (Wow, that sounds rude.)

Eponine-

Eeeep! Second favorite character.



*cries*


Just, I can't even. *Spoilers* Her death was the first passage in literature to EVER make me cry. Here,

"And by the way, Monsieur Marius, I believe that I was a little bit in love with you.” ASDFGHJKL 

*End of Spoilers*


Marius-


Contrary to the opinions of many fans, I appreciated Marius. I even liked him. But, at the same time, he made me SO MAD. *Spoilers* When he edged Jean Valjean out of his daily visits to Cosette and tried to trick Cosette into forgetting about him. When he ignored Eponine. Grrrrrrrrr. *End of Spoilers*


Enjolras-


I can't decided whom I liked better between the two, but I completely respect the opinion of anyone who likes Enjolras better. He was pretty awesome.

Gavroche-

He was sinful, too. But, his carefree, selfless disposition really touched me.

Other Parts I Liked/Loved

When Jean Valjean dragged Marius through the sewers. The guy who had fallen in love with Jean Valjean's favorite person in the world, daily visited Valjean's garden without his permission, AND Jean Valjean still exerted everything he could towards the fragment of hope that Marius would survive. That, readers, is why Jean Valjean is my favorite.

The scene where Marius watches the confrontation between Thénardier and Jean Valjean. That had to be one of the most well-constructed pieces of literature I've ever encountered. I mean, look at the dilemma Marius was in! 

This is random, but I laughed a little too hard when Cosette first visits Marius after his illness and Hugo writes:

She appeared on the threshold; it seemed as if she were in a cloud. 


Just at that instant the grandfather was about to blow his nose; he stopped short, holding his nose in his handkerchief, and looking at Cosette above it...
What? xD 

Conclusion

Would I recommend Les Misérables? Most certainly. It's one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read, and if one considers Lord of the Rings as three separate books, then it's my favorite. Les Misérables trumps any of the individual Lord of the Rings installments. (But, if you're like me, and you see them as one whole book, then LotR is still my favorite.) :)


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Favorite Character: Jean Valjean


~~~

Thank you for reading!! If you've gotten thus far, I'm impressed. Please tell me your thoughts!

Agree/disagree? Are you a Marius/Cosette or Marius/Eponine shipper?

Note: All quotes, unless otherwise marked, come from Charles Wilbour's translation.

7 comments:

  1. Agh did you have to quote the Eponine death scene directly?!?! *bursts into tears*

    I like the new blog! Quick question though: I noticed in the film a giant elephant and also I saw you have a picture of one at the bottom. Is that significant in some way or just a famous structure in France? I'm confused XD

    I really loved the book too--I just gobbled it up! I didn't like the digressions really since it felt like Hugo was trying to cram morals/the overall message down my throat, but other than that I loved it!

    Hmm, I suppose I'm a Marius/Eponine shipper? But at the same time I can't imagine him with anyone else...*angst*

    As for people who complain that the book is too sad, I think your response was really good--it's supposed to be! But also even though a lot of sad things happen, there is hope at the bottom of the book; hope that the characters' sacrifices will not be in vain.

    Good luck with your new blog!

    (Also Lord of the Rings for the win ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. LoverofLembas,

    First comment! Eeep!! :D

    Ahh, oops. Well, Hugo would be proud. ;) (But I know what you mean, it kills me and it is TOO MUCH)

    Oh, it's where Gavroche slept at night! Did your book not have that part?

    YeS!! The book is totally gripping. The reason he talked so long about the convent was because his sister had been a nun and he wanted to honor her, but otherwise I'm not really sure what possessed him to go off on all those other tangents. :/

    I think I ship them in theory, as it were, but I support the decision Hugo made to kill off Eponine, because her death added to the sacrificial themes. :(

    Right! Exactly!! And it's super encouraging to think that Marius and Cosette may have lived to see better political times for France.

    Thank you!

    Of course!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yay!

    Oooh yeah...I do remember reading that now you mention it (it's been a couple months since I read it) but I was also confused as to why there is a giant elephant in the first place XD

    Oh I didn't know about Hugo sister being a nun--interesting since the stuff I've read about him is mostly saying that he (like many French revolutionaries) was opposed to an established Church. Huh.

    Definitely! If Eponine would have gotten everything she wanted it would be taken away from her character a lot. I wish they had made it, but at the same time I'm glad they didn't.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I haven't finished reading the book (even though the copy we had on hand was abridged) but I've seen the movie and spent large quantities of time listening to the original Broadway soundtrack on YouTube. YESSSSSS I LOVE LES MIS. It's beautiful and wonderful and depressing. (Also, when you do the math, only like 20 people die (estimating around 14 members of the Revolution.) It's not that many people...well...I don't know.

    Also I LOVE MONSIEUR BIENVENU SOOOOOO MUCH. He's awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Finish the book, Ilse! ;) But yesss, I too have spent ridiculously large amounts of time with the Broadway/2012 soundtrack.

    Haha, ONLY 20 people, that's not that many. ;) But in all seriousness, that's a LOT. :(

    Ohmygoodnes, this is embarrassing to admit, but remind me who Monsieur Bienvenu is?

    Thank you so much for your comment, Ilse!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm a big fan of the book Les Miserables. I've read it once, but intend to re-read it one day.

    Hah! The little tidbit about Cosette seeming "as if she were in a cloud" is something a little comical for such a deep, serious book. Thanks for sharing.

    Cosette. She's definitely a favorite of mine, and I've ALWAYS marveled at her beautiful name. :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. IlsetheImaginer, wait, wait, wait-- I remember now. I think of him just as "the bishop" after watching the movie. But yes, he's awesome. :D

    Tarissa,

    That's great! I hope to re-read it someday, as well...

    I know!! The book was mostly deep and often depressing, and then Hugo would throw in this random, hilarious comment. It was so funny!

    It is pretty isn't it?

    Thanks for commenting!

    ReplyDelete

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