Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Paperback, Movie Tie-In Edition, 1232 pages
Published December 4th 2012 by Penguin Books (first published 1862)
ISBN 0143123599 (ISBN13: 9780143123590)
I received a free copy while interning at Penguin.

Blurb: "Now a major motion picure, adapted from the acclaimed Broadway musical, starring Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, and Sacha Baron Cohen

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. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty. 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.

This striking edition features the widely celebrated and eminently readable translation by Norman Denny."

Victor Hugo was an extremely dedicated writer I have to say as this novel is immense in its epic-ness. This is a brilliant novel but I wish Hugo had been more keen on editing and being succinct! The first 75 pages or so tell you about the life of the bishop who rescues Jean Valjean and by the end of that section I had an idea of how the novel would continue. Hugo was eager to describe every aspect of the story he had conceived in his head based around the revolutions in Paris in the early nineteenth century, even if it wasn't necessary to the main story. I will admit that this resulted in me skim reading a couple of sections of the novel as it just wasn't relevant to the events taking place in the story. The translator even recommends in his introduction for readers to skip most of the section on Waterloo unless they have a particular interest in it as it isn't important. I would also recommend skimming the description of the convent and the nuns' practices and the history of Paris' sewers and they just are not necessary to the story. Hugo's talent for description is amazing though, even if he did get carried away at times. However, it is really interesting to give insight into life at this time, even if Hugo did not actually live during the period.

The characters are so believable and complete in their personalities, thought-processes and their backgrounds it's incredible. My favourite character is probably Gavroche, the urchin of Paris and unwanted son of the Thénardiers, who roams his city with irrepressible optimism and generosity. I loved when the story focused on him as he is a character that makes you want to be a better person.

Of course, Jean Valjean also has that effect. His self-sacrifice and determination to redeem himself is amazing. I want to say more about him, but I don't have the talent to describe him as Hugo has done.

Javert is also a really interesting character with his unshakeable belief in the justice of the law, regardless of any other circumstances. Fantine's story is heart-breaking as everyone will know if they have seen the musical.

I found Marius to be frustrating at times with his preoccupation with himself. His story varies quite significantly with the portrayal in the musical and film as he is not particularly involved in revolutionary preparations until he joins the barricade. However, the story of his relationship with his grandfather is really moving as it progresses, as a commentary on age and how youth can be eager to move on too soon. Marius' protectiveness of Cosette may be representative of how men viewed ladies at the time but the combination of this and Hugo's portrayal of Cosette as not particularly intelligent was a little frustrating.

The Thénardiers have a bigger family than you realise from the film. In addition to Eponine and Gavroche they have another daughter and two sons who they give away as they are not useful to them. They are just as cunning and malicious as the musical depicts but they do have a certain loyalty to each other and other criminals that in a strange way improves their characters. Eponine's story is also really sad, but her determination and attitude was almost inspiring.

Victor Hugo expertly interweaves the separate characters' storylines to reach the epic conclusion of the revolution and its devastating aftermath. The novel is split into five sections, each with chapters which are subdivided into separate parts which makes it a little easier to break the novel up a bit.

Victor Hugo's title of Les Misérables, or The Wretched, is very apt as very little of a positive nature happens in the novel. Despite this, it is uplifting and really moving and I loved the story. The only aspect which brings the novel down from a perfect 10 are the massive tangents which Hugo wanders down (and carries on and on and on) while telling the story.

9 out of 10

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