Eclectic mixer of books of my youth and ones I always meant to read, but didn't.
Les Mis', now know for the wonderful musical, remains a masterpiece of drama as this production makes clear. The story is so cleverly constructed it makes one think that Hugo came forward in time and wrote parallel plots, cut and pasted them and, then, returned in time with the finished manuscript. There are lfew more memorable heroes than Jean Valjean or more sympathetic villains than Javert. Even today, many years after I first read the novel in print, it is hard to resist the feeling that Marius does not deserve their sacrifice, albeit made for Cosette by Valjean and for Valjean by Javert, and not for him.
As for the performance, it suffers from the understandable production issues inherent in older audio books. There is a fair amount of Fredrick Davidson's breathing caught on the audio and there are some odd pauses and strange background noise (once sounding like a tap running). Notwithstanding this (and having been spoilt by current production standards, it takes a bit of getting used to) Davidson's range is so vast and his continuity so sustained, one can't help but be impressed overall with his performance.
Like all epic works, parts of the narrative need to be persevered with. It is no different to reading the text in that regard. However, I realized with the audio that I actually took more in because I suspect I did not read the long descriptive bits before. For example, the history of the nun's order came as a surprise to me, no matter the previous readings, as did the famous detail of the Battle of Waterloo. I enjoyed both much more in audio than when reading the novel.
A full listening for me was broken into three sittings, interspersed with other audio books; again, as I might go about reading an epic novel. It worked well splitting the Parts, 1 - 3, 4 - 7 and 8 - 10. I'm confident that other combinations would be equally successful. Although I don't think I could have downed the whole 10 Parts in one sitting, a complete listen over about two months worked for me and was very rewarding overall.
This is plainly one of the best titles I have ever listened to and, I suspect, it would be a pleasure to read. The language hangs in that shadowy place between prose and poetry. In many ways, it reminds me of Rushdie's "Enchantress of Florence", without the complexity of plot.
A love story told over a generation and an half, borne of experience and tested in adversity. It also reminds me of Ben Okri's "Famished Road" and and there is no small resemblance to Don Quixote, too.
I loved the plot. It is just so simple, yet it carries the characters along their paths, like the river does at the end. It begins with a death by gold cyanide and there is a hint of fatality in what then follows. I enjoyed the personification of the disease, Cholera, the structure that it brings to the story and the melancholy it drips. All the while the story follows the lovesick "fool", Florentino Ariza. As he relentlessly pursues his love of Fermina Daza, amidst long and strange dallying with the recently widowed population along the Caribbean coast, one comes to like, dislike, pity and then envy the man. Similarly, one comes to smile, frown, swear at and then congratulate Fermina. The emotions are truly cyclical.
Finally, it would be remiss not to comment on the lovely reading by Duran. At times he reminded me of the actor, Peter Coyote, rasping his way in a surprisingly melodious way across the beautiful language.
In my opinion, this is one for true listening pleasure.