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 Les Miserables-Victor Hugo

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PostSubject: Les Miserables-Victor Hugo   Tue Mar 16, 2010 5:01 pm

I know some here have already read this novel and consider it to be one of their favorites. While I think the work is exceptional and much better than most contemporary novels I cannot give it quite that high a mark.


The novel begins with the protagonist, Jean Valjean, a hardened ex-convict, being welcomed in by a bishop, who influences Valjean to such a degree that he decides to live a good, honest life (yes, I am really cutting this review down to the bone). In a town where he starts a profitable business and is turned into the mayor, he runs across Fantine, a woman whose destitution forces her into prostitution, and Javert, an obsessive police inspector who pursues Valjean throughout the entire novel. Fantine has a daughter, Cosette, who she has left with a villainous family named Threnadier. Fantine sends all her money to this family to support her daughter, not knowing Cosette has been reduced to virtual slavery by the inn keepers. Fantine dies, and Valjean takes it upon himself to rescue Cosette from this family. He raises Cosette as his own daughter, and she becomes his entire life.

Years go by, and Cosette, now in her mid- to late-teens, meets and falls in love with Marius Pontmercy (correct spelling?), a fierce Republican (much to the dismay of his wealthy grandfather) who falls in with a bunch of radical students who build a barricade and take on the Parisian National Guard during the uprising of 1832. Valjean, feeling he is losing Cosette to Marius but, ultimately, unwilling to stand in the way of her happiness, rescues Marius from the slaughter of the barricade and carries him through the Parisian sewers to safety. And at this point I really don't want to give any more out without spoiling the ending of the story.

The story is fantastic. The characters are among the best I've ever read. But those damn tangents pop up just as the story gets moving. Hugo claims each one is vital to the telling of the story, but I think most editors today would very much disagree. And they go on, sometimes for two hundred pages or more. The battle of Waterloo, the history of a certain type of convent that Valjean and Cosette call home for a few years, a detailed description of argot, or that time's version of street talk, etc. At the end I found myself skipping entire segments just to get back to the story. Actually, Tolstoy did the same thing in War and Peace. It must have been the style of writing at the time, plus readers were undoubtedly much more patient back then than today.

So, yes, I would recommend this novel, as long as you have a lot of free time on your hands.

So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way.--Joni Mitchell
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PostSubject: Re: Les Miserables-Victor Hugo   Thu Mar 25, 2010 12:06 pm

I am having trouble adjusting to Hugo's style of writing. I believe it may be a matter of character: I am impressed when writers are able to express profound meanings in few words. Wordiness, on the other hand, does not impress me. Hugo is classically wordy.

If history is doomed to repeat itself, bring on the beheadings.
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