Les Misérables: Translated by Julie Rose

Narrated by: George Guidall
Length: 60 hrs and 26 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (3,007 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2008 Random House (P)2011 Recorded Books, LLC

Critic Reviews

“Rich and gorgeous. This is the [translation] to read.” ( Times (London))
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A Book that Made Me a Better Person

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.

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Stunning. Life-altering. Best Narrator.

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.

44 people found this helpful

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!

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.

148 people found this helpful

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Staggeringly good

Most audio versions of Les Miserables use the classic 19th century translations — the ones that have the advantage of being in the public domain. Having been made close to the time of the novel’s publication, they retain the more formal English style of the period, and they usually retain the euphemisms and bowdlerizations of the time as well.

You won’t find many euphemisms in this one. Only a translator possessed of genuine heroism would tackle a project like this, so hats off to Julie Rose for pulling it off: it’s a fluid translation that retains Hugo’s narrative dignity but still brings alive his colloquial dialogue. The audiobook is read by George Guidall, one of the few narrators with the range and gravitas to inhabit the story from the inside.

There are plenty of surprises in the book, but most of them depend on carefully-prepared coincidences. Some of these will be especially surprising if your familiarity with the story comes mostly from the musical: as magnificent as that musical is — and I’m a tremendous fan of it, both as an adaptation and as a work in its own right — it does skirt over the complexity of some of the relationships in the book. (How could it not? The book, as read here, is 60 hours long.)

Hugo works on a huge, sprawling, tragic canvas, but there are moments of glee (many of them courtesy of Gavroche) and moments of melodrama and bathos (courtesy of Eponine and Cosette). Through it all broods the figure of Jean Valjean, the man who remade himself, who constantly scanned his soul for tendencies he abhorred — any trace of jealousy, hatred, or vindictiveness— and who put himself repeatedly in harm’s way to reform them. He is a rock on which the soul of Javert, unable to accept that such a being exists, crashes and is destroyed.

To listen to the book in its entirety is to visit another time and place and live another life. I mean that. I honestly feel as if I’ve lived Jean Valjean’s life from first to last. I don’t even remember when I started; it seems like ages ago. At this point I’m not sure I can separate his memories from my own. Jean Valjean’s Paris feels as real to me as my own hometown.

I admit that I skimmed through the afterword by Adam Gopnik. I rarely find anything he has to say interesting.

The unabridged Les Miserables is not for everyone. Hugo included many chapters providing background on peripheral subjects: the battle of Waterloo, the history of Paris convents, the history of the Paris sewer system, the whole career of Monsignor Bienvenu. I love those chapters, but they amount to about a third of the book, and they add to the challenge for a first-time reader. Hugo can’t help himself: in the middle of the war at the barricades, when the students realize a cannon is being pointed at them, they stop for a page or two to discuss the merits of various materials for making cannon and the advantages and disadvantages of rifling the bore.

Unfortunately the only abridged versions available remove not only these chapters but gut much of the core narrative as well. Some of them render the story itself incomprehensible. My heretical recommendation would be to start with the unabridged version, but listen carefully and do some judicious skipping, being willing to backtrack if you find that you skipped too much and find the characters in an unexpected place.

Beware, though. If you skip the side roads, you’ll miss fascinating observations like Hugo’s proposal for managing Paris sewage. Human waste, he says, is the best fertilizer in existence; we could solve two problems with one looping pipeline — take the human waste out of Paris, and instead of dumping it into the ocean, pump it into the surrounding farmland.

In fact the one question he never answers is about the sewer system. It’s not a set of abandoned tunnels; it’s in active use when Jean Valjean makes his way through the darkness. At times he has to step off the work paths and wade directly into the sewage, usually waist deep but sometimes up to his chin. So.... how many years did it take before he got rid of the smell?

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I finished!!

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.

10 people found this helpful

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Translation NOT to my taste

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.

7 people found this helpful

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It is the best of books, it is the worst of books

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.

55 people found this helpful

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Wow!

What made the experience of listening to Les Misérables: Translated by Julie Rose the most enjoyable?

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.

Which scene was your favorite?

When Jean Valjean meets Cosette in the woods and rescues her from the Thenardier's.

Any additional comments?

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.

7 people found this helpful

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This book is an amazing experience! WoW!

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.

43 people found this helpful

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The Best Book I Have Ever Listened To

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.

69 people found this helpful