7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2009
I have seen and collected movies of Les Miserables, including the musical. I love them all, and longed to have the time to read the book. I finally ordered it. What a beautiful story!
While all movies start the story with Jean Valjean having his soul "bought for God" by Monsignor Bienvenu, the book actually starts with the life of the Monsignor and spends about 50 pages on it before introducing Jean Valjean. Then it spends time in these main characters to make the reader really know them,even become intimate with them,before they meet. The same weaving of lives together are seen with Javert, Fantine, and Cosette.
This book is so rich in life! It has so many moving scenes that will stir your heart! Many dialoges are so intellectually engaging! It is a beautiful blend of piercing ideas and deep emotions, of contrast and harmony, it is a masterwork of life!
How could I live so long without reading it? To read this book is to live!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2004
Les Misérables is less a novel of Jean Valjean's life and death than it is a swan-song for 19th century France, an unflinching look at the underworld of Paris, and a vast, epic monument to man. Spanning a little over 1,400 pages, this book does not shied away from the task of writing down humanity - from a mildly socialist perspective, if nothing else - and while it may not succeed - and what author could? - the effort itself is a marvellous, wondrous creation that is worthy of its immense literary reputation.
Jean Valjean has spent the last nineteen years in the gallows, a convict serving his time for stealing some food to eat. A strong spirit, his initial gaol sentence is lengthened from five years to seven, then eleven, fifteen, then finally nineteen after a series of failed escape attempts. When he is finally released, he is an angry man, an emotionally stunted man, a man whose soul is on th precipice of a great yawning chasm, the bottom of which is the darkest abyss. He manages to find lodgings with a gentle, elderly bishop in a small town, but is unable to cope with the kindness shown to him and he steals some silver wear. Quickly apprehended, he is returned to the bishop's home by the police, but the bishop tells them that everything is fine, that he gave the silver to Valjean. The ex-convict is stunned, amazed that anyone would bother to save his worthless life, and is still more amazed when the bishop leans in to tell him that 'You belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!'.
From this point onwards, Valjean's life has changed. He struggles to do good, becoming the Mayor of a small French province. Here it is that he meets Javert, a police officer suspicious of the new Mayor's silent ways. They tangle, and Valjean's true identity is revealed. For the next 1,200 pages, the cat and mouse game of Javert and Valjean moves to Paris, the heart of France, the heart of the cultural and artistic world, if Hugo is to be believed. Along the way we meet the sad Fantine, the delightful Cosette, the evil Thénadier, the cheerful Gavroche, the...
...But the characters do not matter, nor really the plot. Many critics have bemoaned Hugo's thin characterisations, an accusation hardly believable, given the size of the book and the relative scarcity of characters, but it is true. Cosette is the perfect French maiden, and that is all she ever is. Marius is the typical troubled youth, Enjolras the brooding philosopher-leader. Jean Valjean and Javert can be seen as mythical prototypes, a night and a day that require one another to exist. The plot, too, is flimsy, and while it contains delights, it is nothing ground-breaking, and the extensive use of coincidence was, even then, considered a lazy way of writing.
But the strength of Les Misérables lies in the dramatic, almost operatic pacing and tension that Hugo creates. And spaced between these, we have lengthy diversions into Waterloo, the Parisian sewer system, gamins, religion, convents, art, history, the underbelly of Paris, and more. Hugo is not afraid to spend time addressing a subject he considers important, even if it is on the extreme periphery of the story. Eighty pages might be spent discussing an event or an idea that lasts only ten of 'real' story. This, however, is not a weakness, and serves to add a sense of grandeur to the novel, a sensation that the books and its ideas are bigger than the set pieces or the plot, that to create Paris in text the author must be able to divert himself where necessary so as to create the biggest painting on the finest canvas available. If this story was to be pared down to its constituent parts, so much of the rich texture and depth would be lost. The essays into the true nature of man, into the fallibility's of justice, politics, governments, wealth, all these add to the colour of the story. Without them, we have an urchin-novel of redemption, truth and love. With them, we have a 19th century masterpiece, a snapshot of Paris and France in the 1830s, and an overwhelming monument to humanity, but most of all, to the poor, the sad, the destitute.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 1998
I wrote this Speech in English class to Express my feelings about this book...
My father bought me this book for my birthday, Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo. At first my father was skeptical about my reading the book and he thought he had made a mistake in giving me such an advanced book. He told me that Les Miserables was a complicated book and had a tremendous meaning to it. He was afraid I wouldn't be able to understand it. I have recently finished reading the book. It took me six months to read the book and I loved every moment of it. I took a new approach to the way I think, now I am more a philosopher than a mediocre thinker.
Behind the plot of the story there was a great meaning of what life is all about and human nature. I is not only the main character searching for justice but about the world living one terrible lie. The book touches fragile aspects of crime, love, poverty, and the meaning of life and death. Sometimes life is unfair and you cannot change the way it is, but make the best of it.
Things I have Learned
What is justice? Anyone, would say it is what the law says and how people abide by it. A man caught stealing money from the poor should in fact go to jail. A man who has killed should also be executed. But what about morals? A man who steals bread to feed his starving family goes to jail. A man kills an man who attacks and threatens the lives of his family goes to jail. This changes the scenario, but who is really the convict? This idea put me to think. Is it okay to overlook the good thief and punish the bad thief? No, its not just to either one of them. The just to do would be to punish them both, but then the innocent suffer.
This book has well over a thousand themes. Each one uniquely different towards the reader, but there is a principal message behind the book, the Miserable's name is mankind. No matter in what society, region, or country, they are all still affected by the same kind of miseries.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 1997
Hugo's masterpiece, written in 1826, still stands today as one of the best stories ever told. The characters are complex, and the imagery is quite vivid. The only drawback for modern readers may be the style of writing. Hugo often attaches upwards of 10 adjectives to a noun, and some paragraphs can run two pages or more. There are also long stretches of the story that seem to have no purpose. Some of these chapters the translater has appended to the end of the book, feeling that they do not help the story in any way. Once the reader accepts the idiosyncracies of Hugo however, the story can be fully enjoyed. A story of many people doing what they feel is right no matter what the costs, Les Miserables touches upon every emotion, from unrequited love, to the agony of giving your life for your sick child, to the horrors of war. This version was translated under the pretense that a writer "writes to be read". This provides us with a well written translation, without the choppy reading of some others out there. If you liked the musical, you only know half the story. Everyone should read this story at some time in their life
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2010
I read the original years ago when I was in school. In my family, this was one among several dozen volumes of classics that were meant to be read and discussed. Every cousin, uncle, aunt, etc. of mine had read it and Jean Valjean was familiar to me well before I turned the first page. I saw a movie version of the book - maybe a 50's version. That was ok, but not very inspiring, as people raved. Then, I began to read the book. This is one of those books (despite the claims to the contrary - I did rather find the historical bits interesting, esp. Waterloo) that draws you into another world, one which for its brutal reality, is more fantastic, strange and filled with more horrors than possible - horror movies would pale in depicting the kind of sheer misery that actual human beings experienced. But, there is another kind of work that lifts the veil of this misery and brings the reader and its characters to an upliftment, a light in the darkness, to borrow a cliche, to a world where the acts of one dignified man can produce and be responsible for so much happiness, as well as the deepest of sorrows.
The book is like a symphony, one you can read again and again. Believe me, after the first read, you'll want to read it again .. not immediately, but years afterwards too, when the deeper parts of the novel can be enjoyed, as there are things that only experience appreciates.
In any case, this is my "greatest novel" and although this term is possibly hackneyed through overuse, I would have no qualms if someone bestowed this epithet on it.