"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
Les Misérables is one of those defining social/protest novels that deserves to be read (and listened to) in its entirety. It is easily on par with the great social novels of the 19th century: Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, Uncle Tom's Cabin and Hard Times.
I remember the first time I read the unabridged version in high school, I was stunned that Hugo could engage me with such force. I practically read it straight through. Listening to Rose's relatively new translation and Guidall's audio version, I was transported back to the emotions and engagement I felt 20 years ago. All those memories and I was again anchored to my pro-unabridged novel bias. If you are going to attempt this work, please go the unabridged route, you will NOT regret it. There are few books I've read twice, but Les Misérables defintely makes the cut.
When you begin this novel it DOES looks like a beast (1376 pgs or 60.5 hours), but when you finish it you realize you have sat down to a feast with a master novelist and social gospel writer. Dollar per page or dollar per minute, you can't get much better for its price, unless you steal it.
Wow, Proust kills it with this last book in his masterpiece In Search of Lost Time. He pulls it all together. I loved Proust's reflections on literary and artistic creation, reality, memory, pain, death and time -- and how in 'Time Regained' he draws all his themes together.
About 2/3 into 'Time Regained' the book started to swarm with emotional, intellectual, and experiential energy. You can feel Proust near a climax. IT is like the last movement of a great classical piece. The book feels like all his themes and fugues are twisting together, increasing in tempo, and taking a firmer shape: page by page, word after word.
I'm almost sad that it is over. There are few books I've ever wanted to start reading/listening to again immediately after finishing. Today as I was setting down 'Time Regained', I almost reached for 'Swann's Way'. I feel like there was so much I missed, whole sections that I just didn't get in the beginning. Gems that dropped between the pages of my cognition.
At the same time, I think that is the essence of Proust: the recognition that in the end, his novel is just us. My same need or desire to go back and read 'In Search of Lost Time' again is similar to my desire to go back into my own past and re-experience my youth with the knowledge I have now. It is a futile, but a very human desire. It is an impulse created by recognizing the expanse and limitations of time and memory. The genius of Proust is his ability to transport the reader to that point where we recognize the art within our own lives at the intersection of our memory and experience.
I'm glad I had the audiobook version to help me pace through this masterpiece.
Dostoevsky's 'The Double' is one of those novellas/novels where I REALLY wish I could have read it in the original Russian. His Gogol-inspired novella plays with language, poetry, puns and double entendres are hard to translate adequately (go with Pevear and Volokhonsky for the poetry and avoid Constance Garnett). While patterns still do emerge in translations, they are fragmented and seem often like poor reflections of what the original must be.
After reading this short, early piece of Dostoevsky it is nice to start recognizing its influence on other authors and their work. I finished reading 'the Double' and immediately started seeing how Dostoevsky fits and flips right into the whole bizarre family tree of madness literature. Dostoevsky's double/doppelgänger/unreliable narrator idea inspired a whole fugue of Nabokov novels ('Despair', 'Pale Fire', etc), entire Kafkaesque worlds, Solaris, the Riplad, etc.
Anyway, if you love Russian novels and love Dostoevsky, this is a must (especially if you also love Nabokov). If you haven't read Dostoevsky yet, I'd probably start with 'Crime & Punishment', 'Brothers Karamazov', and/or 'the Idiot' first