One of the great classics of world literature and the inspiration for the most beloved stage musical of all time, Les Misérables is legendary author Victor Hugo’s masterpiece. This extraordinary English version by renowned translator Julie Rose captures all the majesty and brilliance of Hugo’s work. Here is the timeless story of the quintessential hunted man—Jean Valjean—and the injustices, violence, and social inequalities that torment him.
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“Rich and gorgeous. This is the [translation] to read.” (Times (London))
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
Les Misérables is one of those defining social/protest novels that deserves to be read (and listened to) in its entirety. It is easily on par with the great social novels of the 19th century: Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, Uncle Tom's Cabin and Hard Times.
I remember the first time I read the unabridged version in high school, I was stunned that Hugo could engage me with such force. I practically read it straight through. Listening to Rose's relatively new translation and Guidall's audio version, I was transported back to the emotions and engagement I felt 20 years ago. All those memories and I was again anchored to my pro-unabridged novel bias. If you are going to attempt this work, please go the unabridged route, you will NOT regret it. There are few books I've read twice, but Les Misérables defintely makes the cut.
When you begin this novel it DOES looks like a beast (1376 pgs or 60.5 hours), but when you finish it you realize you have sat down to a feast with a master novelist and social gospel writer. Dollar per page or dollar per minute, you can't get much better for its price, unless you steal it.
Nothing to add to the glowing recommendations from so many other readers. Brilliant story, excellent narration. George Guidall is a master at this kind of epic storytelling. I would only note that there are a few passages in the book (and the audiobook) that discuss the patois of the French criminal class. These passages are probably untranslatable, and I found listening to them baffling and frustrating. (Reading them in the print edition, with notes, is less baffling but equally frustrating.) My advice is to close your ears and ride these passages out, or speed up to 3x in the Audible app till you get past them. You won't miss anything important to the story.
Note that this is NOT a suggestion to skip past the histories of convents, Waterloo, and the Paris sewer system. Those you SHOULD listen to, at least once, even if you skip over them for the rest of your life.
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.
It's one of the best. The narration touched my soul.
I fell in love with Jean Valjean and rooted for him and Cosette.
Too long for that!
At first I was not familiar with Victor Hugo's style of writing. It would start to get very interesting and then all of a sudden he was off on another topic. That knocked me for a loop, until I got into the swing of things, and treated each new topic as a new book. In the end it all came together and was an amazing experience.
Out of both unabridged versions of this book on audible, I found George Guidall to be the better narrator. I had the opportunity to listen to the first few hours of the other version, and could not understand the narrator very well. I was very happy to get this one where I had no problem understanding the English. Great book.
Les Miserables is more of a quest than a book. It is a huge book that meanders along taking many long detours but eventually arriving at its destination. You must be prepared for a long journey, don't be the child who continually asks "are we there yet?"
The narrative of this journey follows Jean Valjean an ex-convict who finds redemption, love, and seeks to do good. Along the way we get long discourses on slang, politics, the street urchins of Paris, the sewers of Paris, and the Battle of Waterloo to name a few (there are many long detours). There are also many subplots and stories, such as the Bishop of Digne which opens the book. There are many long detours, many.
Is the book worth the time? I think it is, it is a wonderful story and the long detours add much to the experience. It is named Les Miserables for the portrait of the poor that it gives, but it does not idolize them, it shows the good and the bad, the weak and the strong. It should encourage you do go out and help some one.
This particular translation is advertised as being more earthy and closer to the French of Hugo than the more staid traditional translations. It is more earthy, more sprightly and not academic, but not knowing French I can't say if it is actually closer to Hugo or not. Some translation choices seem odd to me (clink for jail) but once you get into the flow of the story it works.
The narrator is one of the best in the business and he does a commendable job here.
So, should you read this book? I think so, I highly recommend it.
Would I read it again? Yes I will, in a while, when I'm ready for a long, long journey.
Nothing compares to this book.
Don't miss this one
I have purchased over 180 books thru Audible.
This is by far the best.
The story and the narration are incredible.
Yes, I tried to listen to Les Miserables Unabridged Narrated by Frederick Davidson - countless times and due to the translation it was slow going and I could never finish it. This translation by Julie Rose is wonderful and flows as you would expect an native English story to. As anyone with a thesaurus can attest there are countless ways to say the same thing in English. Julie Rose has a knack of choosing the right words!
As mentioned above the other version on audible is not translated into English as fluently.
He's wonderful. He has a wonderful aged voice - he's a master story teller!
Fantine's death and plea for the care of her daughter Cosette - always a tear jerker!
I doubt it, but it was amazing.
Difficult to chose - perhaps Gavroche.
In the apartment when Jean was about to be killed & Javert almost caught him - suspense at its very best!
It haunts me. I never knew there was so much left out in the musical, as it would've been impossible to cover it all. Victor Hugo was truly gifted. I would, however, recommend listening to another great read, "The Greater Journey" by David McCullough, before reading Les Mis - it includes a terrific history of Paris, including Victor Hugo's humanitarian activities. I can't wait to see the movie premiering this Christmas!
Highly recommend - don't be intimidated by its length - take your time and savor it!
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.
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