2007. 35. Les Miserables

“In 1815 Monsieur Charles-Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of Digne  He was then seventy-five and had presided over the dioceses of Digne since 1806.”

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

Oh, this book!  I started in January - it was my next commuting book, after The Ministry of Fear (Greene, Hugo - see?), and I dutifully lugged it around in my bag for weeks.  And at first, I was really, really into it (plus, it was my last few weeks of work at my old job, and I had a lot of down time).  I loved it, in fact.  Loved the story of Jean Valjean, and Javert, loved the long discursives on the Bishop of Digne, and the battle of Waterloo, and the Paris sewers*.  I raved about Les Miserables - I told people that this was the book that contained everything in the world, and if that meant we put the plot aside and read hundreds of pages on random subjects, well, that was what made it literature.  I was a fan.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that I knew the basic plot, from my brief obsession with the musical version (the musical version is remarkably true to the plot of the book, all things considered). My only disappointment was that my version had the cover you see above, and I was so into the book I hated to think that people who saw me reading it would think I only picked it up because of Broadway, when I was so clearly a true fan of Hugo.

And then I hit the Les Miserables wall.  Around page 1100, my interest just waned.  And I got so tired of lugging the book around - the paperback copy has 1463 pages, and we walk to work almost everyday, and my bag was getting so heavy.  And the plot just started to draaaaaag.  You know, when you see the musical, how the stuff on the barricade is extremely rousing (“Red, the blood of angry men!), and goes really quickly, and you get the hots for Enjolras, and it is awesome?  Well, in the book, once the revolution gets going, the book hits a wall, big time.  And I think the reason is that Marius and Cosette sort of suck.  I already knew that Cosette was super boring and dull, and that Eponine was way better, but in the play, Marius is at least sympathetic.  In the book, he spends hundred of pages mooning after Cosette, four boring minutes on the barricade, and, after he is rescued by Jean Valjean (the ONLY person to survive of all his friend, I might add), and marries Cosette and gets a huge chunk of money from Valjean, he finds out the truth about Valjean’s past, and turns on him.  I think this also happens in the musical, but since it happens in five musical minutes, it doesn’t seem so appalling.  Here you can’t help but think that Marius is a selfish weenie, because, well, he is.  And the whole end of the book is all about Marius and Cosette, so the end totally drags, where as the beginning was about Jean Valjean, and was totally awesome.

So, what I am saying is, I didn’t regret reading this book at all - I loved the first 1100 pages, which is a lot of great writing, and I love the plot, and actually, I love the musical.  I’m not too proud to say it.  And now I am going to sing “I Dreamed A Dream” and “Stars” and “Bring Him Home” for the rest of the week, and think some more about Les Miserables, which, is not perfect, is a hell of a book.  It really is about everything on earth - including awesome escaped convicts, and young lovers who are weenies.

Recommended for:  People who like to read really long books and then feel self-satisfied about it (guilty!); Broadway babies who are bookworms (ditto!); lovers of over-inclusive, everything including the kitchen sink classic Romantic literature (that too!)

Date/Place Completed: 3/18/07; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Commuting Book**


*The two hundred pages on argot (aka slang) almost killed me, though.

**I had to downgrade around page 1100 from Commuting Book to read a chapter at night and slog through it at the end book, because my back got sore!

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017