Thursday, October 11, 2012

Book Review: Les Miserables

Aaaand I finally present my Les Miserables book review!  It has been sitting in my drafts for a month, ever since I finished the book, waiting for me to find the right words to describe it.  How does one write a concise, coherent review of Les Miserables?  I have written and rewritten and agonized over it most of this morning; in between chores, meals and work.  It has gone through a grand total of five drafts and this version has been edited three times.  Sigh.  It isn't as perfect as I'd like, but such as it is, here you are:

Les Miserables

Victor Hugo

TYPE/GENRE:Historical Fiction
LENGTH:1,463 pages
RATING:10 out of 10 stars
SOURCES:Project Gutenberg

"In 1815 Monsieur Charles–Francois–Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of Digne.  He was seventy-five and had presided over the diocese of Digne since 1806."

So begins the epic tale of Les Miserables.  Hugo created a memorable cast of multi-faceted characters each complete with backstory and sub-plot of their own:

Jean Valjean- former convict, redeemed, forgiven, self taught, undaunted, courageous, adopted father to Cosette whom he worships, philanthropist, mayor, saviour of more than one person.

The Bishop- humble, kind almost to a fault, he has few flaws and an unshakeable faith in the Almighty.

Javert- stern, unbending, relentless in his pursuit of justice, for ten years he hunts Valjean.  He is the antagonist of the book, but he is not a villain.

Fantine- a beautiful seamstress abandoned by her lover.  Left with a daughter to support she goes through a succession of jobs and eventually becomes a woman of the streets.  Saved from going to jail by Valjean, on her deathbed she entrusts her daughter to him.

Cosette- beloved daughter of Fantine, adored angel of Valjean, quiet, innocent, naive.  Sheltered by Valjean, she knows little of life in the real world.  She falls in love with Marius and very quickly cannot imagine life without him.

Monsieur Thenardier- innkeeper, beggar, con artist, cheat, thief, greedy, lazy, disgusting; he is most definitely a VILLAIN.

Madame Thenardier- the better half of Thenardier?  I don't really think so.  Fond of her daughters, she turns her sons out into the streets.  She is slovenly, nasty and as lazy and greedy as her husband.

Eponine- one of the Thenardiers' daughters.  Coarse looking, ill-dressed, skilled at life on the streets.  She falls in love with Marius but in spite of this, helps him find Cosette.  Jealous, she gives Marius a message that sends him to the barricades, and then sacrifices herself to save him.   A vivid picture of the tragedy of life on the streets for poor girls.  Despite her family and upbringing she has an amazing strength of character.

Gavroche- ah, little Gavroche!  Son of the Thenardiers, he has been living on the streets for several years; cocky, sassy, foolhardy, bold and FAR too young to die.  Absolutely adorable!!

Marius- studying to be a lawyer, turned out by the grandfather who raised him because of a difference on political opinion, he falls in with the Friends of the ABC and is caught up in the Revolution.  He is moody, sometimes silly, a blockhead at times, but brave and though it may take him a while to figure things out, when he does he is quick to act.

Enjolras- The marble lover of liberty.  Passionate, handsome, enthusiastic, eloquent, the natural leader of the students, a magnetic personality, and a stern will.

The Friends of the ABC:
Combeferre- philosopher
Courfeyrac- knight-errant
Feuilly- the workingman who is always learning
Jean Prouvaire- the poet
Joly- cheerful hypochondriac
Bahorel- spendthrift prodigal
Laigle/Bossuet- happy, unlucky, accident prone
Grantaire- last but not least, the drunkard who worships Enjolras

And finally, a host of colorful minor characters: Mme. Magloire, M. Gillenormand, the gang of Patron-Minette, Azelma, M. Mabeuf, M. Fauchelevent....

I had known about Les Miserables for a long time and it had been on my 'to read' list for about two years.  After Amy and Petie's Les Mis week, I moved the book to the top of the list.  I determined to read the book before seeing either concert of the musical in full, and then of course, before the movie came out this December.

I cannot praise this novel enough!!!!  These characters and their story threads are masterfully woven together, set against the backdrop of Paris, in a France attempting to find its place in the new order of Europe.

My favorite three characters are, in order: Valjean, Enjolras, Eponine.  After them, Gavroche is in fourth place and after him, everybody else.  :)

I almost NEVER cry at books or movies (or anything else).  It just isn't my way.  Yes, I become emotionally involved in the characters' journeys, trials, etc. but I contain the emotion.  I must admit though, that for the last fifty pages or so of this book, I was choked up.  It was that powerful, that moving, that amazing!!!

However, there is one drawback.  Hugo is VERY wordy.  I mean, honestly, eighty-some pages of description of the battle of Waterloo, in addition to the description woven through the dialogue??!!  I was annoyed sometimes by the tangents Hugo would go off into in the middle of the action!  The one that annoyed me the most, was when he inserted seven pages of philosophizing on death, right before the final battle at the barricades.  I DO NOT like ANY philosophy, on death or anything else, right in the middle of a battle on the barricades!!!!  Give me the battle and then the philosophy but for heaven's sake, DON'T INTERRUPT THE BATTLE!!!!!  Is that clear, Victor Hugo?  =)  I was strongly tempted to skip the huge chunks of description... and then thought that would be cowardly.  :)  But I certainly do not blame anyone else for skipping them!!  I am of the opinion that you don't lose too much of the story by skipping those sections.  Also, I'll tell you that in future readings, I'll be skipping most of those chunks.

In conclusion, I strongly recommend this book.  But be prepared to devote a sizable chunk of time to reading it.  =)  (And if you do cry at books, expect to spend some time in tears, too.)

And there you have it my friends!

Miss Melody Muffin


  1. Lovely review! :) *sigh* Someday when I have time...

    Ha, I almost never cry reading or watching either... I always figure I cry too easily in real life. :P

    BTW, my computer is apparently fried... I know I have some stuff backed up, and I have been given hope that it will be possible to get stuff off of it... But it's probably going to be a while. :P I'm still hoping there is something replaceable broken, rather than everything destroyed, but I guess I'll find out. :P
    Just so you know what's going on...

  2. I've never been able to read the book, but Eponine was one of my favourite characters - I know the story fairly well for not reading the book. I did not know, however, that she sent Marius to the barricades. I think I like her even more for the fact she went there to save him.

    Oh and I love Gavroche! I almost cry every time I hear of him dying...the musical. Also, thank you for clearing up, I THOUGHT he was Eponine's brother.

    You like Enjolras too! I've always harbored a secret wish that he and Eponine had lived and married. I think because they are two of my favorite characters. I love Valjean though a lot, and Marius.

    I agree, Hugo is wordy. I've made it through the first five or so pages of the book and had to stop, to my sorrow. Maybe I can find an abridged version...Oh! That's my new goal. I shall find a nice one and read it before the movie!

    *Dashes off* *Comes back*

    Oh yeah.

    Thank you, I am glad to be alive far.

    Yes, sometimes cutting characters is a relief. I suppose, in a small way, it always is. But sometimes you can to go, "NOOOO!"

    That is sad you have no snow...and not much rain! I love rain, and fog...I wish we had more fog here.

    John says thank you 8-D


  3. Les Miserables is one of my favorite stories, though I've yet to actually sit down and conquer those 1,500 pages. I DID start it, over a year ago...I checkd it out from the library, and the month of time I was given to read it was not enough, so I never finished it. :P I was enjoying it very much, though. I had finally met Valjean (after reading that veryyyyy long, overly wordy section on the Bishop, who was one of my favorite characters, but was a very slow-moving section), and the story's pace picked up a lot from that point.

    I'm definitely going to finish it before the movie, though. I love the musical, and I'm super excited to see it when it comes out! Seriously, I think they need to do a sing along version so I don't randomly burst into song in the theater...that would be quite embarrassing...

    Lovely review, by the way! It's very apt, from what I know of the story, and Hugo's writing.(:



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