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Carpe Librum

Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.


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Historical Novel Society

Les Misérables - Victor Hugo How to review Les Miserables? This book in its unabridged format can be around 1500 pages long, so there is really no way to say the entire book is detestable or every page is amazing. What I can say is that if you have only been to the musical or watched the movie, you are missing out on the depth of the story and character development that takes place within this impressive tome.

**Some spoilers may follow**

I adored Hugo's beautiful style of writing and the way he weaves together the lives and personalities of his cast of characters. Sure, most people know that Fantine dies, Jean Valjean dedicates his life to Cosette, and loveable little Gavroche dies at the barricade along with many other idealistic young men. But the musical does not tell you the full reach of the Thenadiers' horrific deeds that they justify in the name of earning a few sous. Far from the fun-loving innkeepers who pick a few pockets, they are thieves, child abandoners, and quite possibly murderers. Reading the novel we learn of Marius' connection to the villainous innkeeper, estrangement from his grandfather, and complete selflessness. Even Javert had moments where he made me smile with his incredible confidence and belief in right triumphing over evil (as long as it was his version of 'right').

Unfortunately, the novel also includes chapters like "Ancient History of the Sewer," "The Quic Obscurum of Battles," and "To Wit, the Plan of Paris in 1727." Hugo includes pages and pages . . . . and a few more pages of tangents, unnecessary history, and love letters/songs/poetry. Some chapters kept me riveted to the page, others I skimmed, glassy-eyed.

I adored the beginning chapters describing Bishop Myriel, who purchases Jean Valjean's virtue at the cost of his remaining silver. He is portrayed as forgiving and kind in the musical. In the novel, he is more Christ-like a person than most of us will ever meet. He is selfless, loving, humble, and remarkable in his faith. Without him, the story of Jean Valjean could not happen. I read these opening chapters and was eager to carry on, but no other portion of the book pulled me in like this part did.

Would I recommend it? If you enjoy long rambling, classically written, history-heavy books, this book has themes in it that are touching and well worth the time it takes to get through it. If you are just curious about what else happens that's not in the movie, you'll probably never get through it. Try an abridged version. If you want more of the love story between Marius and Cosette, you should know that the two exchange few words. Les Miserables has it all - love, betrayal, sacrifice, revolution, oppression, faith, and social issues. Sometimes it even has a bit too much.