I'm sitting here wondering what I can possibly say in regard to Les Misérables, and feeling more than a little overwhelmed. I finished listening to the audiobook last night, and am still reeling from everything the book said and means. That being said, I'll give it my best shot. But I'll give you a warning up front: this is a long, profound book. So I'll have to write a long review to express my thoughts on it. Even so, I feel like I'm just scratching the surface.
I'll start with the Audible stuff: as a translator myself, I know how difficult Julie Rose's job was, especially with a book of this magnitude. She had to get into Hugo's brain and express the story so that English speakers could understand and appreciate the tone and atmosphere of Hugo's world correctly. While doing this, she had to be invisible and let Hugo tell the story. It's a very fine line to walk, and she did a fantastic job with it. George Guidall did excellently in his narration--each character was distinct, and their voices changed depending on their point in life, while remaining individual. Wow.
Now on to the book itself.
Les Miserables is known as one of the cornerstones of European literature--I don't think anybody will dispute that. However I think that many people are only exposed to the story through the stage version, and never really consider trying to takle the book. In many ways, I understand this. The book is LONG. The audiobook version is over 60 hours, and most print versions are well into the 1,100+ page range. Not for the faint-hearted. But people that limit themselves to only experiencing the musical version are not only putting a cap on their enjoyment of the story, but are also limiting their intellectual growth.
I'm not saying that reading this book will make you smarter, but I am saying that reading (or listening to) Les Miserables will make you think about things you've probably never considered before, and not all of those things are good. The book is dark. The book is sad. The things that happen to the characters will tear your heart out and make you want to strangle somebody at the same time. I finished listening on my commute home, and I started crying on the platform at Ueno Station in Tokyo.
Becky (my wife for those of you reading this who don't know) has frequently said that she feels that Victor Hugo was inspired as he wrote this. I can't disagree. Any book that can have such a profound impact on both the guy listening in Tokyo as well as the world has to have something more than literary genius going on. I can honestly say that having read this, I feel like I am a better person for having read (listened) to Les Miserables.
Now for the nitty-gritty. One of the ways that Hugo can do what he does is by putting characters in conflict with one another. Not just that, but he also pits one aspect of a character against another, which makes for some very interesting storytelling. The innate goodness of Jean Valjean against Javert's loyalty to justice. The greed of Mr. Thenardier against the generosity of ... pretty much anyone.
A couple things to know if you are about to embark on this: the book is not written like ones we are used to nowadays. It was even considered old-fashioned when it was published. There are times when Hugo devotes a significant amount of time to describing an event that--let's be honest--has little bearing on the story overall; the Battle of Waterloo and the importance of slang among them. He also goes on diatribes about how important certain ideas are, or how base certain thinking is. Dialog generally isn't dialog, but rather are extended sililoquy directed at another character, after which the speaking character will do something. It's not often that you actually have two characters interacting like normal people. Instead, one character will stand in front of the other for a good thirty or forty minutes spouting off whatever comes to their mind, never really breaking of save for breath. It can grate against our modern reader-ey sensibilities, but you can deal with it.
One thing that I felt was interesting was that the first half of the book sets up the second half, in that it provides a powerful reason for all of the characters to end up in the same place. It provides background for their actions and gives us an emotional attachment to them (good or bad) that we can build on. And those attachments are strong, let me tell you.
In a nutshell, if you are a fan of the musical version of Les Miserables but haven't read the book, you are limiting yourself. I don't have anything against the musical, but there is so much more to the story than you get from seeing it on stage (or in theaters/on DVD now.) I've only listened to the musical once before, and I saw the Albert Hall version on DVD, but I didn't really understand what was going on. That version has new life for me now, because I actually know these characters. I know their struggles, backgrounds and the grinding sadness and poverty that is keeping them enslaved. As I said before, this book has made me a better person, and has the potential to change a person's life.
I love the opera version of Les Mis. I was hesitant to read the book because I did not think it would be as entertaining. Wrong! If anything, Victor Hugo paints the characters and the scenes so vividly, I can't stop listening! This is easily becoming my favorite book.
The reader is one of my favorite. Although Hugo can be exceptionally wordy, the reader's voice, inflections and style make it easy to listen, enjoy and just absorb the intent of what the author is communicating.
When Jean Valjean meets Cosette in the woods and rescues her from the Thenardier's.
This story cannot be abridged and still possess the same power. By today's standards, Hugo can be difficult to read as he is very wordy, and the historical narrative is long and detailed. However, it is integral to understanding the significance of why the characters were motivated to do what they did. The story, the characters - everything about this book is phenomenal. Those who are diligent and listen to the entire story will reap the rewards. Also, the narrator must be given major credit for making the experience so enjoyable. This is the best reading of this great tale out there.
I loved the movie but hated the play. I was nervous about listening to a 60 hour book. What if it was more like the play and I hated it? But I really had nothing to worry about. This book is like neither the movie, nor the play. It is rich in history and emotion. It meanders off for hours at a time, then comes neatly back to pick up exactly where it left off without losing any steam or momentum. Not only is it a captivating and heartbreaking story, it is a first hand look into French history.
After awhile you may start to feel that you aren't getting anywhere in the story because of all the side stories. But don't despair. It is all there for a reason and it is well worth sticking to it.
Amazing character development and wonderful story telling
60+ hours so no, but I've listened to 10 hours straight and really didn't want to stop
If you're looking for something entertaining but with great breadth, this is your book. I found the narrator to be spectacular and obviously, Victor Hugo's writing is superb. Its a long listen, but worth every minute.
Love to read, and Audible has made the two-hour daily commute enjoyable!
The book is very complicated - about 1/4 of the book are "digressions" where Hugo discusses topics as diverse as Waterloo, the Paris sewer system, slang, the penal system, politics, cloisters, Paris rich, Paris poor and more. While these passages are hard to wade through - they prepare the reader for later passages, and add a little suspense as we want to get back to the story of Jean Valjean and others.
Nothing is absolute with Hugo, he examines both sides of issues - he may rail on Catholic cloisters, but Valjean's road to salvation starts with an act of kindness by a priest, and later he and Cosette are living in a convent.
Overall, the book is about what is good/evil and the possibility of redemption but how society's conventions may get in the way. While reading the book, I was struck to the similarity in construction to "War and Peace" (a fabulous story with many digressions). This makes sense since Tolstoy and Hugo were contemporaries and "Les Misérables" was published 7 years before Tolstoy's masterpiece.
I almost never write reviews but this work was so great I felt that I owed it to honor, post-mortem the author, the translator, and last but not least the narrator. Yet how do I write a review on a book that is a Literary Classic already and has been reviewed by countless individuals certainly more qualified than myself? How could I bring anything new to this work? I won't try to attempt this other than point out the excellence of the narrator and some other aspects.
In such an epic masterpiece you need a masterful narrator and I've found George Guidall to be top of his class, par none. Mr. Guidall drew out each character, adding subtle inflections, cadences that brought life to the story in what I imagined Victor Hugo intended when he wrote the book. I can't imagine narrating a book 50+ hours and being so consistent as Mr. Guidall. There was no evidence whatsoever of weariness, he was in a word, awesome.
We all are familiar with movies we've seen that are much longer than the traditional 80 minutes, that perhaps were 3 hours but the time just flew by. This is how I see this version. I have a long commute and with a companion like this audiobook I was taken away to a time long ago, to a character of the highest nobility with a heart as tender as they come - Jean Valjean, a nemesis representing the anthesis of grace - Javert, and redemption all played out on a scale as large as life itself. I was never anxious for it to end and was left feeling like I was leaving someone I got to know that I wouldn't see again. I didn't want to go, I didn't want it to end.
This is and will be I suspect, one of the best audiobooks I have listened to. I have listened to quite a few up to this point.
Thank you Mr. Hugo, Julie Rose, Mr. George Guidall and finally Audible.com.
I would definitely recommend this Julie Rose/George Guidall version of the Les Miserables audiobook to anyone who is willing to spend time with this classic. It is well worth your time.
Julie Rose's translation makes you wonder why Hugo's epic yet intimate story isn't on everyone's reading list. She delivers a Hugo with a richness of language and poetry of prose that is a delight to the modern reader. Rose even manages to bring Hugo's history lessons to life, dropping us effortlessly into the French political landscape of the early 19th century and making it interesting.
I started listening to other versions of Les Miserables, but felt the narrators were too high-brow to hold my interest. Then I found George Guidall's version. Guidall manages to bring the characters to life so well that by the end of the story you are desperately sad to see them go and want to hear more. Listening to Guidall is literally like curling up with a good book. His style is so rich yet accessible - perhaps that is why he has narrated over 900 books throughout his career!
Victor Hugo's story, in the capable hands of Julie Rose and George Guidall, inspires and challenges you. By the end of the story I was in the room with the characters, weeping with joy and sadless alongside them all.
This is a classic for all the right reasons. It is a long book and not everyone's cup of tea, however. I like my literature long, complex, beautifully written and with fascinating and well-drawn characters. Les Miserables fits the bill. I read it in print many years ago (due it its length, not many attempt multiple readings) and loved it. You can read reviews of the books itself elsewhere, so I will primarily address the translation and narration. I have no memory of which translation I read back in the 1970s, but it was probably Hapgood or Wilbour and might even have been Norman Denny (a slightly abridged version from the mid-1970s). When I chose the Audible version to buy, my choice seemed conflicted from the beginning: Narrator vs. Translation. I chose George Guidall, who is masterful and simply delightful. And he does beautiful work here, you can be assured. But the Julie Rose translation (2007) is simply too modern for my taste. There are just too many instances of jarring, contemporary turns of phrase. I suppose if one struggles to read old-fashioned language it might be the right choice for you, but I was dismayed. As much as I love George Guidall, I stopped listening after about 4 hours and instead downloaded a digital copy to my Kindle. I was very sad to do so, but I just couldn't take Julie Rose.