Les Miserables is my favorite novel of all time. It is a big, long, involved book. You may want to read an abridged version, although I would not.
Some people have compared Jean Valjean to a Christ-type figure, but I strongly disagree with the analogy. Rather, the Bishop of Digne is most definitely the Christ figure. Valjean becomes, by virtue of the Good Man buying his soul, a counter part of Everyman. As he tries to make himself an honest man, he goes through struggle after struggle, but with the determination to live up to the vision the Bishop had of him when he gave Valjean the silver. The Bishop seems to already have transcended the bigger part of his humanness, and in fact, as he pays for the sins of Valjean, seems to have completed his work of becoming perfect. The silver was his last holdout, his last symbol of desiring the things of the earth, and he gave them away without a second thought when he realized that another of God's sons needed it worse. As I watch Valjean's transformation, it is impossible not to see myself in him.
Now, about the narrator. I have read reviews on Frederick Davidson that consider him everywhere from the absolute worst to someone you have to acquire a taste for. I am in the latter category. When I first started listening, I really wondered if I could listen to him read my golden book for 60 hours. Eventually, however, I came to love the man as a narrator, and forgave without a thought his little idiosyncrasies. His characterizations are without equal, and I have heard some pretty astounding narrators. As I listened to the last three hours of Les Miserables, I was putty in Davidson's hands. I cannot even express in words what it was like to listen to him read this most tender and spiritual part. By the end, I was a slobbering mess, but thanking my God for this book, this author and this reader, and the lessons I had learned once again.
I'm giving it five stars with reservations, those being that I do not totally understand it yet. I am working on it though. It is a great morality play and a bit of a cautionary tail, and I like that a lot. But there is also a ton of symbolism in it, which I also like, but which I do not fully understand. With the aid of critical analyses, I am learning, though, and will probably reread and re-listen to the story when I get most of that into my head.
The story of Faust is one of a tired and disillusioned old man who, in his deepest darkest thoughts, feels like his life has been such a failure that, when he gets the chance, he sells his soul to the devil in exchange for youth, success, fortune and romance. There is always a dear price tag attached, however, as Faust learns to his horrific consternation.
Sad that we English speakers have to read a translation, but even with that, it is obviously expertly written. I guess foreign speakers feel the same way about Shakespeare, and I hope for their sakes that they have quality translations. Being unable to be anything but ignorant on the subject, I feel that this translation is superior. The beauty of the poetry is breathtaking, and can't help but be favorably compared to Shakespeare. The subject matter is earthy and less than beautiful, yet so relevant, mainly because it is human beings that read this story, and we human types are less than perfect, and often less than beautiful. Our base desires are often selfish, try as we might to rationalize them with "good" motives.
All in all, this is a story I am not finished with yet, and it will probably never be finished with me. At least, not on this earth.
The narrators in this drama are top notch. It was a joy to listen to from that angle.
I really don't know how to review this book. Every sentence, maybe every word, holds so much symbolic meaning and so much warning for the readers that it is a heavy read. It weighs me down just thinking about it. At the same time, it is a very important book, and one that should be read by anyone who considers him/herself well read. The book is translated from German, by the German author, Franz Kafka. It is frightening from the standpoint that the protagonist, "K," cannot make sense of what is happening to him, and nothing that he can do has any impact on his own life. He is innocent of any crime, yet he is arrested for some unknown offense which he never learns. The trial takes a whole year, but never amounts to anything concrete. Meanwhile, K is free to come and go as he pleases. He goes back to work, and tries to figure out some way of defending himself, but to no avail. Over the course of the year, his mental state deteriorates because of the uncertainty of his status and the hopelessness he feels because he has no control over his own life. I compare the book to "Alice in Wonderland" because nothing is what it seems. The ending is just unreal, and perhaps is a foreshadowing of what happens later in Germany during the Holocaust, another place where nothing is what it seems, and life stops making sense.
It is a disturbing story, and one that could become a reality for any of us if we continue to allow our freedom to be eroded. That is the frightening part.