What I most enjoyed about this book was the broad scope and depth of the story used by Rand to present her philosophical theories. The writing and story created an immersive experience touching on both intellectual and emotional centers. I listened to the book during my long morning commute which allowed time for it to have its effect upon me; drawing me in to such an extent that I actually found my mood impacted by ideas and emotions generated during the reading. Unfortunately, these often consisted of a sense of frustration and depression resulting from the world that Rand paints to highlight the principles she seeks to illuminate; at times I found it a struggle to shake off the moods this book would generate. While this sounds somewhat dark, from the perspective of enjoying a book, I think this level of impact reflects the power of the book and indicates it is more than just a casual read – this book makes you think and even struggle with the ideas it contains. Regardless of which side of the philosophy you stand, if you enjoy being challenged by ideas you should enjoy this book.
I would compare this book to almost any of Dostoevsky's works, especially The Brothers Karamazov. The similarities being that both are powerfully immersive, affecting a reader at an emotional and almost even physical level. I recall when reading The Brothers years ago I could feel the cold and dreariness of the setting as I was reading and having a similar empathetic response to the mood and events of the story. More significantly, I believe that like The Brothers Karamazov, Atlas Shrugged will leave a reader with thought provoking ideas and philosophical imagery which will endure for years to come.
(1)Slow - as soon as I started listening, the slow pace of his reading became frustrating. I had to play the book at 1.25 x normal speed to try and achieve a more acceptable rate. (2)Breathy - This is hard to explain, but he often seemed to talk in a breathy or whispered voice which was unrelated to the context of the reading. This was accentuated by the slowness of his reading. The speeding up of the playback helped a bit with this, but not entirely. When speaking in character, this sometimes had odd effects; making the person seem almost disconnected from what should have been a dramatic situation. (3)Inexpressive - or maybe just incorrectly expressive. This ties in to the breathy aspect, but in addition, when reading conversations between characters, he at times made it difficult to recognize which character he was representing. In some cases, his voice did not change at all with character; at other when he did modify his voice for characters, he seemed to lose track of how he spoke each role so that his characterization seemed to drift from one character to the next, so for example Dagny's voice would migrate over to Eddie Willers and I would have to actually replay a segment because of losing the flow of the conversation. So, my three words really seem to have stretched out here. However, despite all these comments, it seemed that either Brick settled down after the first six hours or so, or I became more accustomed to his style. In the end, his style became less of an impediment to enjoying the book because the book was simply too good not to enjoy.
History - although telling the story of an individual's life, Les Miserables also paints a detailed and expansive picture of an era in French history. Not being a student of history, I cannot attest to the level of historical accuracy. However, the novel presents a detailed picture of the political, social, and moral climate of the time (1789–1832). The author presents a number of detailed and at times lengthy digressions into various of these topics which often seem to have only passing relevance to the action of the story, but do act to set a mood and context. Hugo is not just telling the story of Jean Valjean, he is illustrating fundamental concepts of the human condition, some specific to his time, but some timeless as well...and this is probably why this novel holds the place it does in the world of classic literature. Redemption - it seems that the concept of redemption was not considered in the criminal justice system, or even in the moral philosophy, of the time. Jean Valjean pays for the theft of bread - to feed his sister's starving children - with nearly two decades of incarceration (extended by a number of foolish attempts at escape). Once his term is served, however, it seems that society continues the punishment and virtually leaves him no choice but to return to a life crime. At the beginning, Jean Valjean is not a noble person crushed by circumstance, he is basically a simple minded brute. As his story progresses, however, he does receive a small degree of respect and faith which is the spark which sets him on the path to consciously redeeming himself through service to others.Tragedy - for all the good that Jean Valjean ultimately performs, it seems that society will not recognize the possibility of redemption and he must fight and flee the past for his entire life. It seems that for every step forward he takes he is beaten down and risks losing all the good he has done. The saddest part, is that being a product of this society, he cannot seem to forgive himself either. For all the good he accomplishes, he cannot seem to grant himself forgiveness for those crimes he has committed so long ago.
At this time I would have to say that Les Miserables is somewhat unique in my "reading" experience. It's been quite a while since I've had the opportunity to enjoy literature for literature's sake, so I don't have a lot of fresh references upon which to draw. That being said, this is a great book against which future readings will be measured.
While there are moments in this book that moved me by the ability of the human spirit to overcome, and even soar in the face of overwhelming oppression, the overall reaction was often one of sadness. Sadness for both the individual sufferings of Jean Valjean and other characters in the story and sadness for the overall society painted by the book. While it is good to see that we (as in humanity) have moved forward, there are still unfortunately too many parallels to be found in the world of today. At the same time, the book is a strong reminder that struggles are only lost by surrender, despite external outcomes, victory is of the spirit and is achieved by how the struggle is faced.
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