A captivating story but be prepared for long editorial comments by Hugo that have very little to do with the story that most of us are familiar with from theatrical renditions of it!
Les Mis: Love. Dreams. Freedom.
Valjean and Javert continually teach the lessons of love, grace, and the pursuit of what is good and noble. The characters are vast and complex; I love that Javert is an antagonist who is simply following his fixed philosophies of Good and Evil. Javert's insights before his downfall are awe-inspiring and get me every time.
Victor Hugo is wordy, but it's part of the charm. I've read an abridged version, an unabridged "brick" of a novel, and now I have listened to it here. This is my favorite classic novel, my favorite musical - it has so many lessons to teach readers.
George Guidall is one of my favorite narrators of all time, and Julie Rose's translation of Hugo's masterpiece is superb artistry. This makes for a winning combination. My interest was sustained throughout the very long book, and immediately upon finishing it I bought George Guidall's narration of the unabridged version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I always appreciate good literature and I stand in absolute awe at the literary genius of Hugo.
I know a lot of people like the translation because it keeps the book from getting too "stuffy", but this is a literary masterpiece. I like formal wording for formal passages.
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've loved the musical and various on-screen adaptations since I was young. I still loved this book, but it was just too long for me. The unabridged version (which this is) has too much in the way of descriptions of the French revolution, wars, and sewer systems for my liking. Others may love that, though! The reading was really quite good, and the story is timeless.
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.
I really appreciated the narration of George Guidall. He was an excellent choice of actor to record this important work. He has great character voices, inflections, masterful skill in being the "one man show" of Les Miserable. (I hope he received some kind of award or recognition!) The reason why many start Les Miserables but never finish is that between Hugo's verbose language and the complicated and continuous (to modern eyes) French language references make it a very dense read. Yet, if you approach this book as if you were sitting in a big leather armchair before a fire with someone such as George Guidall reading it to you, with all the phrasing and correct pronunciations in context, Hugo's pageant opens up to you. Not only is it a great work of literature, it is profoundly deep, entertaining, sentimental and moving. If the musical/operetta version (excellent in it's own genre) Les Miserables is a six-inch ruler, the book is a yard-stick!
So many - off the top, where Jean Val Jean finds Cossette in the forest when she is getting water, later when Marius falls in love with her in the Luxembourg Gardens; the characterization of Marius' grandfather, the description of the Battle of Waterloo. The night Jean Val Jean agonizes over whether or not he should turn himself in when a man of mistaken identity may be condemned in his place. All fantastic.
Of the many memorable scenes, my favorite is where the three orphaned boys take shelter in the Elephant of the Bastille during a thunderstorm. It was months ago that I originally read it, yet it continues to haunt me. It was touchingly adorable, funny and horrifying all at once.
As a joke - You haven't cried so much since Bambi's Mother died! Seriously - the story that asks and answers our universal questions about life - with one word.
Well worth the value if you get it as a single purchase or on a membership. It took me a year to complete the audio version and that was with being able to listen to it at extended periods at a time. And what was the first thing I did after wiping away my last tear on the last page? (so to speak) Hit the download button again to listen to the first part. I didn't want to leave and there is so much more to be gained again and again. I'm so glad this version of this book exists in this world. It truly has been a blessing in my life. If you can, please do invest the time. I hope you will find it equally moving.