Les Misérables – Book No. 17

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

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.

Abbey’s Review

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?

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5 thoughts on “Les Misérables – Book No. 17

  1. I remember my first experience of seeing the film. My family was going to see the movie- only knew it is was musical, that the song “I Dreamed a Dream” was in it. I was not told something that I am glad I didn’t know ahead of time. I was extremely unsure going in. Then after the first death, I picked up on something, that Les Mis was a tragedy. I was kinda of shocked, conflicted and confused: never once saw a tragic musical before. Still left the theater with “Do You Hear the People Sing” stuck in my head. Really don’t know why I started researching the musical a few days or a couples weeks after

    The 2nd chance: I got so much more out of Les Mis. By that moment on, the rest is history. If I had just seen this book on the shelf, never would have read it. It was my love of the musical that made me want to read this book. The unabridged took me 3 and 1/2 months: helped having the knowledge of the musical. If I didn’t give this show a 2nd chance, Les Mis never would have been in my life

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    • What a journey! I think the musical also pushed me towards the book! Les Mis is such a well-written story of pure humanity. I could read it and re-read 10 more times and still find more and more.

      I really like your story though. It’s crazy how something that you think is a short-term thing can grow into a lifelong love! I’m curious though, what’s the part that speaks to you the most?

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        • That’s interesting that you think it’s a tragedy! Especially with the overarching Jean Valjean story, I think their might be an argument it’s not. Im not sure though. At least to me, it’s not entirely a tragedy. Certain parts definitely are, but I think it’s more uplifting. Maybe I just don’t know what a tragedy is lol

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          • I had to study that genre in high school. The genre needs heartbreak and pain, but at the same time there needs to the catharsis at the end- that catharsis is why tragedies are more than what I thought. It is what allows you to leave with hope or inspired.

            Either way, Les Mis is still a sad story, but with a beautiful spirituality at the same time

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