Where do I begin? Maybe I should start with this: I love epic novels. There are not many therapies quite as effective as books with the ability to transport you out of your problems and into fictional ones. This book came at just the right time; half of it was read during a tumultous two week period in which my family moved slightly abruptly; the second half was devoured last month, while I recovered from some unexpected goodbye’s.
I started Les Miserables with high expectations, and was not disappointed. Victor Hugo is champion of the touching moment. He will spend chapter after chapter setting up every tiny detail for the perfect moment. I found myself having to stop multiple times, I could read no more because I was crying too hard. Please do not be intimidated by this. The title is “The Miserable,” and Hugo isn’t afraid to bring you down to the level of the lowest to show you what must be the depths of despair. But woven into these troubles and woes are themes of hope and redemption. Thus, the tears and sorrow I felt were of the most satisfying variety.
It was those sweet little moments that make this novel so great. Victor Hugo is not afraid of spending adequate time to set things up for a devestating paragraph or shocking sentence. Victor Hugo is certainly not concerned about wasting your time. For example – he spends over four chapters describing the history of the sewer systems of Paris. Was it really necessary? Maybe some of us enjoy having this random bit of history to share with our naughty nerd friends. I wasn’t quite so enthusiastic. I attempted to immerse myself in the quality of his writing, and forgive the putrid subject matter. We must allow these great novel writers some lee-way in this area. They spend so much time and thought masking their genius behind characters and intricate story plots. The greatest epic novels tend to have the longest diversions; if we take advantage of the treasure they have handed us, we must also submit ourselves to the occasional ramble. And when you realize exactly how smart this man is, you shan’t mind submitting yourself to a (maybe) unnecessary diatribe.
So we plow through the history of Parisian sewers and find ourselves in a climax worthy of the highest accolades. For those of you worried about the time and stamina it takes to make it through a 1000+ page novel, have no fear. The book is constantly progressing, becoming more and more beautiful with each succuesive chapter.
Before I finish this perhaps conservative and certainly not over-exaggerated praise, I must mention the characters. To me, the characters are the most important element of any novel or work of prose. Hugo’s characters were interesting. Although a few bordered cliche, they each had their fair share of peculiarities and were (to some extent) relatable. They certainly had not the four dimensional reality of Tolstoy, neither were they the caricatures of Dickens. Hugo found a lovely middle ground. Although his characters are life-like, they also seem to embody themes, ideas, and philosophies that play and interact within the story – creating a suprisingly interesting philosophical thought box.
Kudos to the man- for creating a novel that will outlive every rebellion and continue to reach the multitude with a message of the existence of undying love.
P.S. And the movie is coming out soon… can someone please tell me if it is worth watching?