Monday, April 29, 2013

“To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.”

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo 
1463 pages 
Genre: Classics 

Summary: Les Miserables takes place during the uprising in 1832 France, and follows the lives of various inhabitants therein. 

Review: When I finished this book, I felt like hoisting my fists in the air triumphantly and running around the block humming “Eye of the Tiger” or the theme song from “Rocky”. Les Miserables is absolutely massive, and the simple act of reading it makes one feel as if one is undertaking the most epic journey of all time. Like most voyages, however, it had its highs and lows. 

Let’s start with the highs, shall we? Les Miserables is written absolutely exquisitely. There were many instances in which I would find myself backtracking to read a passage over again, just because of the sheer beauty of the words. To say Hugo was an eloquent writer seems like the understatement of the year. He was so good at using words not only to say something in an exquisite way, but to get to the very heart of the human condition. His prose is filled with passion and emotion, and it’s hard not to become completely engrossed in the world he creates. 

The characters were just as complex and interesting as the writing, and it was easy for me to view things from their perspective. This was quite painful at times, as the content of Les Miserables is incredibly sad, but being able to empathize with the characters was a natural extension of the world created. Hugo really got inside the characters heads and lives and discussed all kinds of details about each to the reader, which made everyone seem wholly believable and real. 

At times, it was hard for me to keep the characters straight because there were so many, but I think the standout for me had to be Jean Valjean. Watching his evolution throughout the book was riveting, and his story was heartrending and intriguing. I tend to like the “criminal” characters the best in anything I’m reading, perhaps because I like to get to the heart of their motives, so I suppose it isn’t all that surprising that Jean Valjean’s story is the one that resonated with me the most. 

While there were some absolutely amazing aspects of Les Miserables, there was one thing that I really didn’t care for: Hugo would often go off on random tangents about sewers or some obscure piece of history, and twenty pages later, I’d say to myself “Really? We’re still talking about sewers? Can we hear more about Cosette now, please?” For me, this detracted from the story immensely, and it’s the reason it only earned three stars from me. I just didn’t care for the digressions, as they often made the plot move rather slow, which is a shame because the story itself is so compelling! 

Rambling departures aside, Les Miserables was an excellent read and I cannot wait to read more of Victor Hugo’s body of work. If you like classics, definitely give this a try! 

Rating: 3/5 

Read-alike: The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexander Dumas