This is not a book for the average reader. I love this story, but this book is long. I had to work at finishing this. However, this is one of the most profound and insightful books on humanity and our connection with God. If God is not your thing, then you and victor Hugo would be friends. He was a agnostic pessimist. However, his insights on humanity and their connection with God are miles beyond other writers.
Listener of music in words as I roll along, either in the car, or on the subway, or on my exercise bike.
The side notes are too numerous which make it hard to enjoy the flow of the story. No doubt they are educational and provides an insightful look into the lives and times of Paris in those days. Overall they weigh down the story and indeed it might even be said that the Jean Valjean story is merely a vehicle for Victor Hugo to display his amazing knowledge of France.
The audio book version perhaps makes it less painful to plough through the side notes. It's easier to stay the course; I would probably have skimmed through the side notes in the book, but one can't do that in the audio book.
On the other hand the audio book version is not easy to follow given the many long sentences, French names, and Latin sayings. I found it necessary to purchase the e-book and make constant references to it.
Having enjoyed the musical, the Movie with Liam Neesan, and the Movie-Musical, it was time to go for the real thing! Wow! Hugo's book has the narrative story I was familiar with, but I think he intended to communicate much more than that. He loves France, and puts a good spin on both it's revolution and it's riots. He loves battle history, and politics, and even sewage systems, apparently --for he wrote about them all at great length, caring not how long it took! In all this, I don't see how I could have stayed engaged except for the translation --From French to English is hard enough, the translator must also communicate the flavor of the prose and the personality of the author. And then, she must update very old colloquial language. And then she must add the colloquialisms that a modern English reader would understand. She does all, brilliantly.
[if you have never seen the movie nor the musical, the following might contain spoilers for you. Like wise, if you have seen the movie or the musical, you might find it takes the fun from the book if you read below about some of the differences in the book. Read at your own risk]. Hugo loves irony, and no character is more ironic than Thenardieau (spelling?). He is consistently self-centered, wicked, and opportunistic. Yet, it is he who saves the life Marius, Marius' father, and Jen Valjen, without intending to do anything but enrich himself, in every case.
The irony of Javer's suicide comes alive in the book --in a way neither the movie nor the musical adequately explained. Javer came to a point where he chose to do the "right thing" but it was "against the law." He could not live with two "right" ways, the way of the law and the way of a higher morality than the law. He could not receive grace, if you will. He lost his identity. He has alway existed believing that the law was the highest light and the only guide for life. Now, he found that he had violated and believed he had done right. He would rather die than seek to live without the law. He "resigned" from the service of God by killing himself. Irony within Irony.
Likewise, the death of Eponine, which, portrayed in the movie, was seen as a selfless matter, was not that in the book. She wanted to die for Marius, yes, but only because she knew he loved another. And, she wanted him to die also, and had even arranged for it, or so she thought. She did die, but he did not. She wanted to get rid of his ability to live with Cossette, but only insured it.
I could go on, but there is so much irony, that you will have to hear it for yourself.
The narrator was up to the challenge of a very, long book. He voiced all parts himself, including women, children, old and young. He did a terrific job, especially with changing Valjen's voice from bold and strong, when he was young, to desperate and feeble, when he was old. He handled prose, poetry, monologue, and dialogue with equal prowess.
Of course, the gem of the book is Valjen, who goes from criminal to Christ figure, and doesn't seem to notice the depth of his own transformation, even at the very end. He is grace personified, putting all others before himself.
Finally, one of the greatest treasures of this unabridged version of the story is the narrative regarding the old priest who first showed grace to Jen Valjen. His story could be a movie of its own.
I tried to read Les Mis three times before but kept getting stuck on "french" words that would make my reading choppy and then I gave up. I used a credit to purchase this unabridged version and was blown away. It did take me a month to finish this book because it is sooo long, but now I can finally say I have finished it.
I have a new appreciation for French history, enough so that I am now listening to Paris by one of my favorite authors Edward Rutherfurd. Generally I'm not a fan of musicals, but the movie adaption of the stage musical left me wanting more and so, I downloaded the book. I'm extremely happy I did.
Hugo goes off on long tangents that have only a loose connection to what is actually happening in the book. He takes on the church, the government, various levels of society at the time, and provides a rather lengthy description of the events on the battlefield of Waterloo. As a history buff I enjoyed most of the diatribes but a couple did become tedious and left me longing for a return to the story, a fascinating, heart wrenching, amazing story. I've since learned some more about Victor Hugo and have a better understanding for who he was and his mind set at the time of the writing of this classic. It's given me an appreciation that I didn't have while listening to the book but that would have enriched the experience.
It's a five star story with five star narration for me, but it's not an easy listen. The author seems to want you to suffer at certain points. Hugo's protagonist and antagonist are much more complex in the book than could possibly be displayed on stage in the allotted time. This book is worth reading for those that are new to Les Miserables and lovers of the stage experience alike.
Endure the authors detours if you are not one who loves a history lesson, embrace them if you are, but take the time to listen and feel the emotions that Hugo forces upon you and you will love it.
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.
There's probably a great book buried somewhere here, but it's impossible to find. I've never seen such a bloated overwrought mass of verbiage in my life. This novel is in serious need of editing, and I mean brutal trimming.
I cannot understand the reasoning behind the endless meanderings that take place in the story. For example, at one point the two protagonists are forced to take refuge in a convent. Fair enough. At this point the author goes into an extended discourse on the history of the convent, where it originated, it's ties to other religious orders, it's leaders, its rites, practices, and so many extraneous details so as to numb your senses and make your eyes glaze over. And it's all completely irrelevant to the story. COMPLETELY! And it's not a brief sidebar, it goes on for about an hour (at least it seemed that long to me).
The author does this over and over, taking pains to explain details that have absolutely no bearing on the story. If any of these details were in some way entertaining then I guess you could justify it... but they simply aren't that interesting. They are monumentally boring.
I did manage to finish the book, but it was a chore rather than a pleasure. I was just too stubborn to admit it was a waste of money (and time invested).
Do yourself a favor and avoid this, or perhaps try an abridged version. I tend to avoid abridged versions, but this book may be the exception. It needs to be trimmed by at least one third, and maybe one half.
It is a shame, because you can see that he is a great author, some of the passages are simply brilliant. This truly could have been a great novel. It just isn't.
Les Miserables is a great and timeless classic and the reader in this case did a good job, but, let's face it; it is a really long book and often times I was frustrated with his many diversions into side-topics. I found I kept wanting him to "get back to the story." If you have plenty of time and don't mind alot of digression, this is the book for you.
I might condense some of the digressions from the main plot by the author. The major change would be a translation that reflects the language used in the 19th century, not one that reflects useage at the middle school level in the 21st.
I find the scope and subject matter similar to that of several works of Tolstoy. In both cases, a sweeping saga but with major segments reflecting the authors philosophy, perspective, and love of their country.
Really can't chose a single character; I thought he did a good job with many of the characters.
I am inspired to learn more about France in the 1800s-whether I actually am able to take the time to do this remains to be seen.
I should have chosen a different translation. Perhaps listening to a few pages would have directed me to one more in tune with the times described in the book.