Saturday, November 7, 2015

Les Misérables - Victor Hugo

Readers, I have a quick confession to make!

So I have had 2 electronic copies of this book for a while, one in the original French, one in English. I had been too intimidated to even try to read the French version until last year, so I decided to try reading both versions at the same time as a chapter-a-day read for 2015. I officially chose the English version for the Back to the Classics Challenge's over 500 pages category, since the electronic version was more than 950 pages, but I was smart enough to not make the French version official, just in case.

Turns out I had the right idea. Sadly, my plan to read a chapter a day did not work out. I was unable to keep up and in fact both versions sat untouched for months. It hit me that in reality, I just don't like reading books on the computer. I don't enjoy anything about it. The computer is in the way and hard to deal with; I can either sit uncomfortably at a table to read or the computer overheats if I try to read more comfortably on the sofa; my eyes get tired from the screen light. I really prefer to read a book the old-fashioned way. But I needed to complete the challenge and read this book. How to make that happen? I decided to grab a "real" copy from the library and I did what I could to clear time from my schedule and got down to business. The "real" copy ended up being 1200 pages too, so in fact I somehow read even more pages than I otherwise would have.

I must say that I was captivated all through the first three parts. I found it easy to overlook the rambling that was common during this period in history (mid-1800s), which normally drives me insane, as well as the amazing coincidences (hey, they make a great story!), and focus on the characters and wondering what would happen next. But somewhere during the 4th part my interest flagged a bit. This part just went on far too long. The characters pontificate and bloviate and speak in pages and pages of monologues and then the narrator joins in with more rambling. I completely understand that this is a feature of literature of this period, and not a "bug;" that the author is making (and making and making and making) a point; that attention spans were longer than three seconds back when this book was originally published (ooh shiny / squirrel!); but overall it became a bit more of a slog for me.

In addition, in the last 2 parts, there were some things that occurred that seemed out of character to me. I get that this is most likely meant by the author as a show that these characters have changed in some way, but for some reason I felt unsure of that as a reader. It's as if Hugo decided that telling (and telling and telling) the point he is making was more important than showing us as readers those points through the actions of the characters. I hope that makes sense.

All this being said, I still enjoyed this book, and I'm glad I read it. In fact, I would like to read more of Hugo's books in the future.

tl/dr: worth reading, but one that takes time and patience!

ETA: I read the Norman Denny translation and I highly recommend it - it was wonderful reading.

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