Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Classic of the Month: Les Miserables

Hi, there. I think it's time I wrote about what is quite possibly the best book I have ever read. This time on Classic of the Month, I'm going to take a look at the greatest thing to come out of France, and one of those books EVERY PERSON should read before they die. Period. I am of course referring to Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

First of all, yes, the musical is fantastic, but if that's all you know of this story, you're missing out on a beautiful experience. The movie with Liam Neeson is a terrible adaptation, and I'm still astonished the filmmakers got away with it. Now, onto the top ten reasons why I love this book so much:

10. The Structure. Les Miserables was published in fifths. Each section has its own feel to it, as well as rising action and a major climax of sorts. At the same time, each part fits in with the whole seamlessly, creating one massive, complex arc of love, loss, and redemption.

9. The Setting. Victor Hugo picked the perfect time for his masterpiece to take place. The revolutionary turmoil serves as a superb backdrop for all the characters' internal confusion, and when the two become linked closer to the end of the novel, it is immensely satisfying.

8. The Thernardiers. M. and Mme. Thernardier, who go by different aliases throughout the novel, are some of the most repulsive villains to ever be written. But they aren't the only ones I'm talking about. Their children, notably Eponine and Gavroche, live lives of hardship and tragedy, but push on and keep fighting until the end. I promise, if you haven't read this novel before, this family will elicit stronger emotions from the reader than you could ever imagine.

7. The French Atmosphere. The world all the magnificent characters inhabit is undeniably French in every way. The novel doesn't deny this at all, but instead uses it as a way to further enrich the story.

6. The Writing. As if all that weren't enough, Victor Hugo is one heck of a writer. When even the translations feel fluid and poetic, you know there is some fantastic talent present. I have been tempted to learn French just so I could read the novel in Hugo's own words.

5. Fantine. Perhaps the most tragic character the Greeks or Shakespeare didn't think up. Fantine is willing to give everything, go through anything, just to keep her daughter alive. Her selflessness in the face of insurmountable odds is inspiring, and her ability to weather through all the world throws at her will make your heart break.
4. Marius. Marius is the character most short-shrifted in any adaptation of Les Miserables I have ever seen. Everywhere else, he exists primarily as a love interest for Cosette, but in the actual novel he has a backstory, one that is rich and ties in with other plotlines and characters as well. Readers who have only known the musical will have a newfound respect for him before the book is halfway done.
3. Javert. It may seem strange to not list the characters as one point, but there is so much going on with each and every character that to group them all together would be a massive disservice. Take for example Javert, the prime antagonist of Les Miserables, the embodiment of the unjust law. Javert spends his whole life hunting after Valjean, and through this chase we discover his character is deeper than what he seems. He lives in constant inner turmoil, and Valjean brings into uncertainty everything he once thought was truth about human nature. His inability to reconcile the real world with his preconceptions provides for the driving force of later parts of the book.

2. The Raw Emotion. Another sign that this novel is indeed French is the sheer peaks and valleys the characters go through. Fantine's struggles, Valjean's sacrifices, Javert's epiphanies, Marius and Cosette's unrequited love, and the fierce passion of the barricade all hit the reader hard (or at least this reader). I found myself on multiple occasions reaching for a tissue when such an action seems unusual for me. It's all so stunning and beautiful, but at the same time like daggers to the heart. What more can I say? It's Les Miserables.

1. Jean Valjean. He is the focus of Les Miserables, the crux of the action, the reason the novel is the classic that it is. Released from jail on parole (he was there for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread), an encounter with a merciful bishop turns his life around. His goal is at first just to escape, but slowly he changes and wants to make a difference in the world. He strives to prove Javert wrong, that people can change, and he puts his life on the line time after time for other people when he has no reason to at all. His story is the entire point of Victor Hugo's novel, and it is an unforgettable one.

So there you have it. I don't have much more to say that wouldn't seem like mindless ramblings, although I could do those about the novel for hours. Now go read it. Enjoy it. I know you will.

My rating: 11/10. (I know, I know. It seems immature. So sue me.)

1 comment:

kirstie said...

i bought this book just a few days ago from countless number of ppl telling me it was so good and worth the time and i loved the play so much i figured i'd give it a try so far i'm glad i did i'm just now past the 1st section of book 2 of fantine (jean valjean was just released from prison) so far i'm enjoying it very much!!