Initial thoughts on Les Misérables


Today I shall be reviewing the first 50 pages of Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. I have written a review of the book as a whole, which I will post at a later date, but I wanted to comment on the very beginning of the book.

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean – the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. In Les Misérables Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them onto the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breath-taking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose.

Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait which resulted is larger than life, epic in scope – an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.

I have seen the movie version, so I roughly know what happens. Although I did struggle a bit with understanding the text initially, as the very beginning of the book isn’t part of what is in the movie, (so I can’t understand what is happening all of the time). What would be helpful is if it was written in the first person, because it felt like I kept getting thrown into different situations where I didn’t know who the focus was supposed to be on.

To begin with it felt like I was wading through marsh. There were many parts that I really didn’t think were necessary, they just confused me more. I felt as though I’d been reading nothing because the only thing that happened in the beginning was that we met a nice Bishop who visited villages. I understand the importance of setting the scene, however do you really need 50 pages about a Bishop that is only in the movie for two minutes?

I find it strange the way the book is structured. It is split into very short chapters, which really didn’t help me with reading the book as the numbers disrupted my flow. In addition to this, there were receipt type lists, letters and essay type sections placed at random intervals in the text. Again, this disrupted my flow, which didn’t help me reflect on what I’d just read as others might suggest. Surely Hugo could just describe these things, weaving them somehow into the story.

After all of this, I was still feeling optimistic as I thought I would learn a lot from the book, including better syntax and vocabulary, which I was very much in need of. I do find the concept of the book boring (it’s not my cup of tea), yet I felt it was important for me to read this much loved book as it widened my reading horizon (if that’s a thing!). A full review is soon to follow.

Love, Sydney


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