Monday, March 19, 2012

Les Miz--my thoughts in total

I finished reading the 1463-page Les Miserables on Friday night amid the undignified noise of my family watching National Treasure. :D As I put down the book in triumph, having read the last words, I was overwhelmed with a sense of "That was a good book." The sensation rather surprised me, for I had not expected to like it as I did.

Les Miserables is Victor Hugo's tale of Poverty, Misery, Justification, Salvation, Good, and Evil, Patriotism, and reams of other themes. Set against the backdrop of post-French Revolution/ post-Napoleonic era, it is full of politics and social commentaries as well as a thriving plot. The main characters are an ex-convict Jean Valjean, his pseudo-daughter, Cosette, a young lawyer, Marius, a relentless lawman, Javert, and a nasty ex-inkeeper and thriving crook, Thenardier. There are many other side-characters who, at times, play almost as much of a part as the ones I labeled "mains." Among these are Fantine, (Cosette's mother--a poor young woman driven to prostitution from misery and the demands of the Thenaridiers) Eponine, (Thenardier's daughter) Gavroche, (a plucky Paris gamin) and Enjolras (a passionate Revolutionist). For fear of giving too much away, I won't go into details of this plot, only tell you that it was exciting, complicated, and satisfying at the end, though quite sad.

As I already mentioned in another post, the biggest con in this book for me was the clumsy way Victor Hugo mashed his politics and people. I will only briefly mention that in this post, as you are quite welcome to hop over to the other post and read all about it there. :) I am a purist and I made myself read the unabridged version of Les Miz. However, I have heard from several sources that the abridged versions (which are still 800+ pages) nix most of the lecturing and leave you with the story. If you are not dead-set against abridged versions of books, I would recommend you read one of those copies. I found that Hugo left his plot in the most intense moments to lecture on random things. I mean, when ****Plot Spoiler*** Jean Valjean is carrying Marius half-dead away from the barricade, Hugo broke off and started lecturing on the histories of the sewers of Paris, leaving Marius bleeding. I mean, really? ***End of Plot Spoiler***

Plot: The plot of Les Miz was intense and fabulous. I really ended up liking it far more than I thought I would. There is just enough romance, just enough valour, just enough passion, just enough politics to make it a riveting story. Here, Hugo did his fame justice.The writing, as well, is very polished, very thorough, and beautiful. In technicalities, Hugo was a genius. His words flow nicely--very nicely indeed.

Characters: But I think Hugo's main claim to fortune has to be the strength of his characters....actually, the strength of his side-characters. You see, I really didn't like Marius all that much. I found him to be a tad bland, a tad resentful, a tad moony. He just isn't my kind of guy. Cosette was better, but still had a Rowena-like aura about her that made me want to shake her up and see if she'd say something clever for once in her life.
But those side-characters! Hugo obviously went by the rule that whoever was in his book, be it only for a few paragraphs, must shine. And they did. So much so that ***Plot Spoiler*** by the time Enjolras, Gavroche, Eponine, Coureyfac, and all the others died at the barricade, I was nearly crying. The scenes they had played, had been played to perfection, and I could sniffle over their deaths admirably. ***End of Plot Spoiler***

The last third of the book is chock-full of valiant conversation and quite makes you burn with pride for all these noble men going to their death:
"What a pity!" said Combeferre. "What a hideous thing these bloodbaths are! I'm sure, when there are no more kings, there will be no more war. Enjolras, you're aiming at that sergeant, you're not looking at him. Just think that he's a charming young man; he's intrepid; you can see that he's a thinker; these young artillerymen are well educated; he has a father, a mother, a family; he's in love, probably; he's 25 at most; he might be your brother." "He is," said Enjolras. "Yes," said Combeferre, "and mine, too. Well, don't let's kill him." "Leave me alone. We must do what we must." And a tear rolled slowly down Enjolras's marble cheek. (pg. 1200)
And another:
The sight was appalling and fascinating. Gavroche under fire, was mocking the firing. He seemed to be very much amused. It was the sparrow pecking at the hunters...The barricade was trembling; he was singing. It was not a child; it was not a man; it was a strange mystic gamin, the invulnerable dwarf of the mêlée.(pg. 1217)

Conclusion: Les Miserables is a book well-worth reading, if you've got the guts. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not, on occasion, for the faint of stomach. Your heart will be wrung in several places, you'll wish to hurl the book across the room in several places, you'll want to slap people in several places, but at the end you will do as I did, lay the book aside with a reverent hand and glowing inside, whisper to yourself, "That was a good book. Well done indeed."

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Best of the Bits:

“The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.” 
 ***Sobs and plot spoiler***

 “Promise to give me a kiss on my brow when I am dead. --I shall feel it."

She dropped her head again on Marius' knees, and her eyelids closed. He thought the poor soul had departed. Eponine remained motionless. All at once, at the very moment when Marius fancied her asleep forever, she slowly opened her eyes in which appeared the sombre profundity of death, and said to him in a tone whose sweetness seemed already to proceed from another world:--

"And by the way, Monsieur Marius, I believe that I was a little bit in love with you.” 

***End of Plot Spoiler***
“Before him he saw two roads, both equally straight; but he did see two; and that terrified him--he who had never in his life known anything but one straight line. And, bitter anguish, these two roads were contradictory.”
“Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.”  
“There is a determined though unseen bravery that defends itself foot by foot in the darkness against the fatal invasions of necessity and dishonesty. Noble and mysterious triumphs that no eye sees, and no fame rewards, and no flourish of triumph salutes. Life, misfortunes, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields that have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes.” 
 There were more...this is a very quotable author, but I will leave you now! I hope I gave you a fairly good idea of what I thought of Les Miserables, and that this review will be helpful to you. :) For a long time I've love the music from the Broadway version of the story, and I can't wait to see it now that I've read the book!


Rebecca said...

Well Rachel, you have succeeded in making me wish to read this book! Let's see if I'm brave enough to tackle such a large one! :)

Esther Brooksmith (wisdomcreates) said...

Wow, thank you for the review, Rachel. Very well done, I think. :)

Miss Dashwood said...

Ohhhhhhhhh Rachel, I'm SO glad you loved this book! You are even more of a kindred spirit than ever!
I adore the musical, too... Eponine is hands down my favorite character. So is Gavroche. So is Valjean. So is Javert. So is Marius (in the musical, at least-- you'll like him better there, I promise).
I could ramble all day, but I'll spare you. I'm just SO GLAD you liked it!

Oh, and that little bit from pg. 1200 brought tears to my eyes. If it hadn't been for the silly bit at the end about Enjolras's marble cheek (seriously??) my keyboard would have been in danger of water...

And the part about Eponine's death... sob again. This song (A Little Fall of Rain) is beyond beautiful. And the last snippet of Do You Hear The People Sing? that you posted is absolutely gorgeous. Favoritest ever.