Author: Victor Hugo
First Published: 1862
Film/ TV Adaptation: Yes*
Rating: 3/5 Stars
One of the greatest books of the 19th century has a lovely story, but might be too bogged down in historical detail for most readers to fully enjoy.
*Characters *Epic Plot
*Overly Detailed *Long Breaks From the Main Story
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” Readers are shown the epic story of an ex-convict named Jean Valjean who finds himself again a wanted man. Though he tries to become a more model citizen and a better man of God, he still must evade the authorities, especially a persistent inspector named Javert. It is when he meets an ailing woman named Fantine and her daughter Cosette that his life begins to have meaning. Will Jean Valjean ever be able to shake off the sins of the past so that he can be free to live his own life?
Seriously, somebody give me a medal for finishing this book, because it is easily the longest I’ve ever read and it is quite the mental marathon. I’m also pretty sure someone dusted this book with the Sandman’s magical sand, because I could only get through about fifty pages at a time before conking out into a solid two-hour nap. All jokes aside though, this tome holds quite the story. Every character, from the iron fisted Javert to the sweet and innocent Cosette are memorable and hold a certain place in your heart. But no one will hold your attention more than Jean Valjean; after all, the book is about his life. He is one of the most lovable yet frustrating character I’ve read. Valjean is so pure and he does so much for many of the characters of the book without asking for any thanks, but you just want him to catch a break every now and then, or at least give himself a break! No one judges themselves harder on their past than Jean Valjean, but that is who he is and the reader can always count on that part of his character. The story is epic in its romance and drama, and, in true Hugo form, every interaction, big or small between any character has a ripple effect that entwines the characters’ together for the entirety of the book.
This book could have been a huge favorite of mine if it did not include pages upon pages of excruciatingly boring and seemingly unnecessary detail. There are sections on the battle at Waterloo, lengthy chapters on what a convent is, and let’s not forget the section on the street language of Argot. Ask me what I know about the Paris sewer system, because I can assure you, after reading this book, I know quite a bit. I applaud Hugo for compiling this much history into a book, but I really only need a paragraph or, if he really needed it, a page max to summarize what happened at Waterloo. When I saw sections title “A Few Pages of History” I could feel my stomach start to turn, my eyelids droop, and a literary induced headache begin to form in my temple. Yeah right, a few pages on history…. These areas completely halted the story and I wanted to just rip these chunks of pages out of my book. I want to know if Marius will ever find Cosette or if Jean Valjean can escape Javert’s clutches again! I don’t need to know the type of stone used to construct the sewers…I really don’t.
It seems like it would be easy for me to dislike this book, since most of the time I was bored senseless with Hugo’s detailed writing. However, the main story of Jean Valjean’s life is fantastic and I’d reread it if I didn’t have to traverse through so much historical detail. Even for me, someone who loves the classics and reads many genres, this book was extremely challenging to read. That is why I only recommend it to those that really love the classics or are huge fans of the musical and want to read the source material. Do yourself a favor and skip this one if any of what I said doesn’t sound appealing to you. One thousand two hundred pages is quite a bit of writing to get through.
*TV Adaptation: (Starring Gerard Depardieu 2000), (Starring Richard Jordan 1978), * Film Adaptation:(Starring Hugh Jackman 2012), (Starring Liam Neeson 1998), (Starring Michael Rennie 1952), (Starring Jean Gabin 1958)