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72. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1862)
Dates: 6/1/20 – 7/14/20 (43 days)
Plot: A French historical novel that follows the lives of several, seemingly unconnected characters throughout the years following the French Revolution.
Experience Before Reading: I saw the 2012 movie, but didn’t remember too much. Other than Do You Hear the People Sing?.
Takeaway: This is a classic. Forget what I’ve said about most of my other reviews, this is a book that everyone needs to read.
I don’t know what it is either. Maybe it’s because the book is so long (it’s the longest on our list!) that you become so attached to the characters. Maybe it’s because the brilliant intertwining of each character’s journey with another. Maybe it’s the way Hugo spirals and rambles about seemingly nothing to capture the zeitgeist of the French Revolution. But seriously, this book should be read by everyone.
My only criticism – because really, you’ll never love everything – is that Hugo’s tangents can result in chapters of nothing related to the plotline. Histories of the French sewers, practically a full reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo, an aside on slang and linguistics. It’s everything. There’s a rumor Victor Hugo was paid by word – which I couldn’t back up with evidence – but my oh my, does it go on forever. According to Wikipedia alone, nearly a quarter of the novel is spent on digressions. When you consider how long the entire book is, it’s like you’re reading several 30,000 word books within Les Mis.
Which brings me to one of my most important points: listen to it as an audiobook. This was my first ever audiobook. While the audiobook is 60 hours, I promise it’s worth your time. I was hesitant about audiobooks, since I can be a distracted listener, but the experience was heightened from listening to it, I think. Plus, it saves your sanity from some of those digressions.
As much as I’d love to go on and on about the characters, I don’t want to ruin it. What I will say, is I found these characters well-written. Maybe not as much so as Atlas Shrugged, but still so vivid. Especially Jean Valjean. I feel like I understand him as a character and can very clearly delineate his values.
Lastly, I want to talk about the way these characters co-exist together. The way some of these characters foil is remarkable. The way their paths cross and blur the lines of enemy and friend is beautiful. It’s almost Shakespearean at times. Don’t believe me? Read the end of book two and tell me it’s not like a comedy. (Note: There are five “books” within the novel).
I’m looking forward to checking out the musicals this weekend. While personally I’m not a musical fan, I have seen the 2012 movie and did enjoy that – some of those songs are really, really catchy.
Would I Recommend It?: Yes.
Dates: 5/18/20 – 5/31/20 (14 days)
Experience Before Reading: I am very familiar with this work. I have seen the musical multiple times (it’s incredible), I have seen the movies multiple times (skip the 1990s one), I have watched the miniseries once, and last year while working in the office doing mind-numbing paperwork I listened to the entirety of the novel in a week. Since I am currently working from home in a quiet apartment, I decided to make the most of my work hours and listen to Les Mis again!
Takeaway: This is truly such a wonderful work of literature that focuses on the importance of sharing love and spreading goodness to the people around you. This novel and subsequent adaptations have inspired revolutions and songs from the musical can often be heard at protests around the globe. A life changing work of literature.
Would I Recommend It?: I feel like I have rated this lower than it deserves, but I think since I am so familiar with the story, it doesn’t hit me as strongly as it once did. However, I still feel that this is a must-read work – it is so ingrained in our culture. The message of the novel is simple and lovely. But remember to prepare yourself for some long winded descriptions that are mildly infuriating. I find it helps to remember that Victor Hugo was paid per word for his book, so can you really blame the man for that chapter about the sewer system?