Book #50: Les Miserables

Now that I’ve read Les Miserables, I really can’t believe they made it into a musical. When you think about it, someone had to be sitting there reading some Victor Hugo and, probably during one of his dozens-of-pages-long tangents about French history or Parisian architecture, thought, “We ought to turn this into a musical.”

Isn’t that weird?

I thought many, many things while I was reading Les Mis, but “this would make a good musical” wasn’t one of them.

Overall, I really liked Les Miserables. Hugo is a brilliant writer and it’s clear that he loves Paris. This love helps his work, I think. His excitement made me really excited about not only the stories, but also his extensive (and I mean extensive) background information. Which is a good thing, because he adds a lot of extra stuff.

In the midst of following Jean Valjean and Cosette’s escape from Paris, I suddenly encountered around fifty pages of background information about the abbey where they were going to hide. Hugo recounts the abbey’s entire history, gives a list of prominent nuns, and then spends several dozen pages philosophizing on abbeys, cloistering, and religion. It was all very interesting (or, I suppose, most of it was very interesting), but I did find myself blindly flipping through several of the pages. It was just that I really wanted to know what happened to Jean Valjean. I didn’t want to know about all the abbesses who had been in charge of the abbey up until that point. The same, at times, went for Hugo’s detailed descriptions of Paris or of French politics. To an extent, I’m sure that it’s important to know these things to fully appreciate the book. But at the same time, it made the book a bit of a slow read.

However, Hugo’s writing more than made up for the tedious bits. He’s great at description (I like to think that Les Mis is part story, part travel guide to 1800s Paris) and good at getting inside characters’ heads. I also underlined a lot of quotes. Most of the ones I liked best were about religion (I’m thinking of making a whole separate post about the quotes I liked, because there are quite a few), but my favorite was this one about travel:

“What is more melancholy and more profound than to see a thousand objects for the first and the last time? To travel is to be born and to die at every instant.”


Hugo summed up exactly how I feel about traveling. It’s always a scary and amazing thing when you read something and realize that the writer has just put into words exactly how you feel. He expresses one hundred percent, in this quote, how I feel about traveling, but I didn’t know that was how I felt until I read that. I didn’t know that that was why traveling, although I love it, makes me so sad.

I would definitely recommend Les Miserables as a read, though. Hugo’s writing is good, the story, for the most part, is intriguing. At parts I was a bit fed up with all the whining, though. I don’t usually have much sympathy for characters like Jean Valjean when they seem determined to make themselves unhappy, even when there’s no reason for it (see also: Catherine and Heathcliff). So, at times, I was a bit ready to scream, “Why do you insist on making yourself miserable?!?!?!” But for the most part, it was okay. The end also dragged a bit, though. It felt like Hugo wasn’t sure that readers would understand exactly what he was trying to represent with Jean Valjean and his caring for and devoting his life to Cosette, so he decided to have Marius spend the last fifty pages or so telling us what he wanted us to know. After a bit, I was like, “Okay, okay, okay, I got it!” So that was a bit annoying.

But overall, I say go for it! Read Les Mis. Have at it, but I’d opt for the abridged version if I were you.

Rating: ****
Up Next: In A Glass Darkly
But first, I think I’m having a Ray Bradbury marathon. I read one of his short stories last night, now I’m reading Something Wicked This Way Comes, and I’m a tad hooked right now.


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