Thursday, 22 November 2012

Les Miserables

      So I was feeling like I was in a slump, not having any idea for weeks now on what to blog about.  And then I went to Chris's  post on Les Miserables, here.  She's at Bookarama.  And suddenly, I knew:  I have been reading Les Miserables slowly ever since buying it last spring.  Very slowly.  Most of the summer went by before I picked it up again.  Then this week I read a few more chapters.  I understand now that one of the things stopping me from blogging is that I was wanting to talk about Les Miserables, and also wanting some more time in reading it first, thinking I should have more read before I do.  No!  I want to talk about it now!  Cause really, I'm excited about this book!

There, I said it.  This humungous novel, at over 1192 pages with pretty small print, is worthy of being called a classic.  From the very first, I have been amazed at the gracefulness of the edition I have.  It's the new Modern Library edition, translated by Julie Rose. 

I am amazed at the depth and perception of Hugo's ability to get into the skin of people, to delineate them so clearly.  The Bishop of Digne who is round and kindly and pure, and his ever so thin sister who stays with him and cares for him all her life, devoted in a kind sisterly way, not the mean way that some people can have when they give up something for someone else.   Valjean himself, made a criminal through poverty - hunger - changed by meeting the Bishop.  And what a change!  One of the grandest moments in literature, I think, the moment when Valjean sees himself as he has become, and chooses another path through the grace of meeting the Bishop.  He tries to go good, and oh does he ever!  It was a striking moment, Valjean's conversion to opening up himself to trying another way, a marvellous insight into his thoughts and perceptions.  This is a meaty novel, rich with characters and story, though Hugo goes off and explores so much at the same time, like he gets sidetracked and wants to cover everything  and  the landscape of life in early 19th century Paris is laid before our eyes in the book.   Yes, the plot does move a little slowly.  I don't mind, mostly I wish the book didn't weigh so much so that I could carry it around with me and read it more quickly.

Little Cosette.  Ah the poor little girl, I am so angry at her mother (and the cad who got her in the family way) and what happens to Cosette, and then have pity for the poverty most people live in, in the early 19th century that leads to what happens to Cosette.  This is a magnificent book.  And I have almost 1,000 pages to go.  I've finally realized that I want to take you  along with me as I read it - I want to post about Les Miserables and my journey through it. 

Have you read Les Miserables?  Can you, like Chris, say that you have read the whole thing?  What did you think?  Let me know.
And of course, the movie is coming out.  I didn't know it was a musical, which I am wondering about  -but I love this poster, and Hugh Jackman - oh yes, I think I am going to see this!  Now, can I read this over the next month?  Not likely.  A good part, though.  So stay tuned.  And I promise every post won't be about it, I do have lots of other books I am reading and want to share!  This is such a treat though, that I think something like  a weekly update, or Drop in on Les Miserables reading would be fun to do.  I'll see.  For now, I am enjoying the richness of characterization and details, though Chris does warn that there are several chapters devoted to sewers coming up. 


Kerry said...

I feel the need to say, gloatingly, yes, I've read all 1232 pages of my edition. (Which, for reference, is the 1976 Penguin Classics edition translated by Norman Denny in a reprint from some time in the 1980s.)

I read it back in the 80s when the musical first came out and a friend introduced me to it. So I admit my recollections are vague, but I do remember being very impressed by it.

I think one of the things that slowed it down, but added hugely to the atmosphere was all the background included. Like the entire chapter telling us about what a good man the bishop is, making Valjean's theft at the end all the worse. Or the pages and pages and pages and pages about the Battle of Waterloo, when really the only plot-relevant part of it is the last paragraph or two with Thenardier. It was kind of like once Hugo had done the research he couldn't bear to leave anything out. I remember thinking at the time that if I reread it, I would stick with the plot and skip all the extra detail.

These days, the very size of it scares me silly. I don't remember how long it took me to read it (I wish I had a record) but I was under 20 and healthy then. Now I'm over 40 and have had ME/CFS for 22 years. It would be a much harder task now.

All the same, with you enjoying it so much and the movie coming up, I find I'm tempted. But really, I don't think I should do that to myself.




Jeanne said...

I read Les Miserables as a teenager, which is the right time because everything is so dramatic and good and evil seem so much more opposed. Reading Victor Hugo after the age of 20 can be hard. I'd see the movie first and then find out if you get interested enough to read/crawl through the sewers.

Jeane said...

I think I have read the abridged version, which is still pretty hefty, believe me! It mostly just cuts out the pages where Hugo goes on political rants and things like that, if I remember correctly. I do want to read it again someday, such an excellent book, but the length still intimidates me.

Chris said...

I just saw the musical recently and was absolutely blown away buy it! So surpassed all of my expectations!! And guess what I just got? The GORGEOUS new Penguin Clothbound Classics edition of the book :D I'm so excited about reading it eventually!! And yes, I'm excited about the movie too!

Kailana said...

One day I really must read this book!

Susan said...

Kerry: Yaaay! and you can gloat, yes you can. I'm happy to hear you were impressed by it, I am too.

hmmm, so you might want to read it again? it's slow, and I let myself dip into it when I want, I'm trying for regular readings while I read other books. Otherwise my book total for the year would be abysmal! If you want to read it slowly with me, let me know :-) we can share emails and the occasional post - it will be slow reading, I am reading lots of other books in between dipping in!

I am enjoying it though and now I know I have the Battle of Waterloo as well as sewers to look forward to! lol I think the atmosphere is important in a book like this, it was to create the feel and the details of life back then. It's amazing writing.

Jeanne: This is an interesting view you have, that evil seems so much more opposite when you are young. Do you really find that evil is less clear as a person ages? I find that knowing what to do in the face of evil is harder, because we are aware of so many other considerations. But evil is evil, at least for me. I find Javert not being able to let people change the truly terrifying part because so many people are like that in real life. Thank you for your insight, I am going to think on it some more, too.

Jeane: I was wondering how much an abridged version would cut out, so thank you! It would be hefty anyway, there is a lot of story it seems, too. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it so much, this gives me hope that it will stay the same impressive insights all the way through.

Chris: No way, there's a new clothbound Penguin edition of this???? I might want it!!! I'll have to go look it up. Who is in the musical that you saw? I'm impressed that you were blown away by it, this gives me hope the movie (which is based on the musical) will be as good as it promises. It's interesting how many people read the book based on the musical in the 80's. Apparently I missed out on it the first time around!

Kailana: It took me to know, in ny 40's, to read it! So you have lots of time to gird up your courage to face it. It really is good, and the depth of characterization makes me remember this is one of the jobs of the writer, to reveal and know human nature.

Maybe the musical will tempt you too, or the movie :-)

Eva said...

I read it (unabridged) & loved it too! Hugo creates a whole world of rich, fascinating characters to know; it's a great example of why I adore gigantic novels. I didn't know there was a movie coming out...I feel iffy about it because I love the musical so much (and have since I saw it when I was 12). And while I think of the musical and book as two separate things, I'm not sure I could do the same for the musical and movie.

Susan said...

Eva: I think the movie is based on the musical - they've set it to screen. So everyone who loves the musical should love the movie! lol I am hoping to get Les Miserables done by the time the movie opens - that's Christmas Day, it looks like, here. I'm not big on musicals, though I am enjoying the book very much.

I am happy to hear you read the unabridged version and loved it very much, too. It is a whole world of rich characters. I am finding this novel satisfying to read. I'm sad it took me so long to sit down with it. When did you read it, how long ago?

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