Book Review: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Preview…Victor Hugo’s stunning masterpiece “Les Miserables.” I began this novel somewhat reluctantly, having had bad experiences with French literature in the past; reluctance quickly turned into a gripping anticipation as to what would happen next and a veneration for the author’s preponderance of lofty moral and social lessons weaved in and out of the plot line. Though it took me a good two months to work my way through the 1500+ pages of the unabridged tome, the experience was well worthwhile. Yes, reading this book is definitely a major time commitment, but if you can swing it, don’t pass up the opportunity to read
It is difficult to condense the wonders of “Les Miserables” into a single article — this story has it all: love, redemption, revolution, good versus evil and much more. We first meet the Bishop of Digne, who, with his spiritual profundity and ethereal grace, is able to resurrect the goodness in paroled criminal Jean Valjean. Valjean, having been imprisoned many years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his impoverished brood of nieces and nephews, had a hardened heart. Having been wronged by society, he felt that he owed nothing to it. A chance encounter with the Bishop set him on a new path.
Jean Valjean, under a false name, rises to industrial power and eventually mayorship of a quaint town. In his new role, he meets Fantine, a woman spurned by her lover, enduring remedial labor and even prostitution in order to earn money to send to the aid of her daughter. Jean Valjean makes a promise to the ailing Fantine that he will find her daughter, Cosette, and take care of her.
Cosette, having been entrusted by Fantine to those she wrongly took to be good honest people, is little more than a servant girl to the Thenardiers. The couple had been charging Fantine with false expenses for Cosette’s care and pocketing the sum, while Cosette shivered in rags on the verge of starvation. Jean Valjean comes to Cosette’s rescue, offering the avaricious Thenardiers a large sum for her adoption.
This whole time, Jean Valjean is being relentlessly pursued by Police Inspector Javert. From the time that Javert uncovers Valjean’s false identity as mayor, Javert is never far off-track, keeping Valjean on his toes. And all of this described above only brushes the surface of “Les Mis” — this is only the first half of the story!
You may like this book if… you enjoy meeting very real characters, you like the contrast of noble and deplorable types, you enjoy learning history or philosophy alongside the main plot line, you like pouring over moral issues, you do not believe in the absoluteness of societal roles and labels, you believe that good things (or people) can come from bad situations, you want to read an enjoyable story coupled with layer-upon-layer of deeper themes, you like a little intrigue, a little mystery, you are fascinated by Waterloo, nuns, Argot or the 19th century Paris sewer system
You may not like this book if… you simply do not have the time to commit to such a long read—that’s really the only reason I can think of for not loving this book (if only I could give in 12 out of 10 stars).