Ceri’s Updates/Reviews (#36)

Les Misérables is certainly a book that I will not be reading ever again. It is the most challenging book I will ever read, but I’m glad that I have read it because I feel as though I have just finished climbing a mountain. I’m in a state of shock that I actually managed to read all of it. Reading Les Misérables is one of my life’s greatest accomplishments, however I did not enjoy 60% of the novel. I chose to read Les Misérables, mainly because it was a huge challenge for me. Of Mice and Men links to Les Misérables because both are philosophical and have themes of poverty, death and companionship.

Les Misérables tells the story of an escaped convict Jean Valjean’s ongoing battle to become a better man. Along the way we get to know many other characters’ stories of poverty and near death experiences in late 18th/early 19th century France. There are many events in the story, all linking to the struggles in French society, as well as the importance of love.

My main problem with Les Misérables is Hugo’s verbose, often mundane and irrelevant writing. I find it very difficult to understand why he needs to be so extensive all the time, when mostly it does not add anything to the story. The characters often go into thirty page long monologues that are more confusing than enlightening. Hugo will often say “we must now describe this event in some detail (to progress the story)”, which makes me want to tear pages out of the book because he does not need to write another fifty pages of nonsense in order for the story to progress. There is no way for me to be able to engage with the book when I have to frequently trudge through endless meaningless tales. I have to say, I was not impressed by the fifty page description of The Battle of Waterloo.

In addition to this, I felt like I had to know the entire history of France to understand much of the book. There were many names thrown in such as Robespierre and Fouché, which only made vague sense to me because I had studied The French Revolution in history lessons. When I read Of Mice and Men, I wasn’t bombarded with important historical names or tales of battles, yet I could still understand the story and its context as there were ‘simple’ allusions e.g. Curley’s wife was not given a name so I know women were treated badly at the time. I would also like to point out that if I wanted to read an in depth historical book, I would choose to read an encyclopaedia- not a fictional book. It would be much more beneficial to the reader if Hugo focused more on giving detailed character profiles so I can actually keep track of the many characters Hugo throws at me.

There was one thing that I actually liked about Les Misérables and that was the beautiful portrayal of compassion and love. I was particularly moved by Fantine’s love for her daughter Cosette as well as the extreme kindness of Jean Valjean. There were moments when I thought: “Finally, this is an amazing book.” These rare moments were ones when Hugo wrote especially powerful lines- “This was the lark that never sang”- or wrote very touching character “break-through moments” as I call them. This is when I felt the characters showed true human emotion, instead of Hugo’s idea of what human emotions are. My favourite part of the book was at the very beginning when Jean Valjean broke down in tears because he realised what a monster he had become. Firstly, I was just glad that he was reacting normally, plus I was glad he was crying because he had just stolen a little boy’s money. After this first wave of emotion had passed I wept along with Jean Valjean and that was when I realised there was more to this verbose book than I initially thought.

I formed an attachment to Les Misérables whilst we were on our never ending journey together. I would describe Les Misérables as my sister in book form; I complain about her all the time but I love her really. It was impossible for me to spend so much time reading that book without falling slightly in love with it. The massive problem is the length of the book, but if Hugo worked on that it would be perfect, if a bit confusing. Jean Valjean told me his life story.

I’m so, so glad that Les Misérables has been adapted into a musical because I want as many people as possible to hear the incredible story that is Les Misérables. I have learnt so much from reading this incredibly tough book and although I hated it most of the time, I do not regret reading it. Having spent so long hating this book, I now appreciate what a sensational job Hugo did in bringing Jean Valjean’s story to life. If a book makes me cry I know it’s a good book and I definitely cried at Les Misérables.

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