Monday, August 29, 2011

Les Miserables

Les MisérablesLes Miserables – Victor Hugo
Evan’s ESS = 8 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = out of 10
Content = PG-13 (Adult Content, Violence, Sexual Content, Mild Language, Feats of Strength, Epic Wedding Speeches)

Why:  How do we even begin to review a book like Les Miserables?  Seriously, we’d love some assistance over here.  We’ll do our best to express our thoughts, but be forewarned that conflicting opinions are posturing to be heard.  The fact that Jean Valjean is our new fiction role model is one matter not up for debate!

Providing any kind of comprehensive summary for this novel is far too ambitious for our tastes.  Fortunately, all any prospective reader needs to know is that there’s a thief, a police inspector, an ill-treated girl, a lawyer, and all kinds of various miscreants.  Against a backdrop of war and revolution the fates of said characters are intertwined to create all kinds of high drama, treachery, and feats of strength.           

Les Miserables is a beautifully written, epic masterpiece that far exceeded our expectations.  Admittedly, we had been dreading this read for several months so the bar was set pretty low.  And at 500,000 plus words, we just wanted to survive until the end...  Not only did we survive, but we were left with a new appreciation for the history of France and all kinds of weighty social questions to ponder.  Les Miserables is a book of despair and second chances.  Most importantly, the novel is about the many choices that ultimately define a person’s life.  

In our opinion the characters were the strongest aspect of the book.  There was a good bit about the battle of Waterloo that critics have swooned over, but those parts were overshadowed by the presence of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert.  Both of these characters had the ability to add instant “hold-on-because-something-big-is-about-to-happen” to the plot.  Jean Valjean was fascinating and his character provided so much hope for the human spirit.  The character of Javier was equally remarkable in his single-mindedness towards order and law, although not quite as likeable.  Okay, his likeability hardly registered... but he was still an interesting character. 

Our only annoyance with Les Miserables was all the tedious digressions littered throughout.  We sat through entire chapters dedicated to the appropriateness of slang in literature and the complex, yet often inadequate use of the Paris sewer system.  Why do so many “long” novels feel the need to add these sleepy asides?  Admittedly, not all the extra bits failed to grab our attention and some of the commentary was actually interesting, especially the few drunken rants that helped set the atmosphere.  Still, in the end, we just wanted to get back to the main storyline. 

Overall, Les Miserables was beautiful and emotional throughout.  The end in particular wasn’t rushed and fit nicely with the rest of the novel (this is a big deal for us).  We have a new fondness for silver candlesticks and experienced one of the most epic wedding speeches of all time.  Now we’re out of breath.... long live Jean Valjean!


  1. ooohh la la! an excellent review of a masterpiece! i love this book as well and i couldn't agree with you more. vive l'auteur! vive le livre! c",)

  2. I'm scared to read this one, but I think I'll give it a try next January. I have the same problem with big books: I don't understand why authors feel the need to write those "tedious digressions".

  3. I LOVE Les Mis! I read this after discovering the musical when I was 15 and it was soooo good. I love Marius he's my favorite character in the book. I also love the quote from Bahorel to Jolly about getting a woman to like him:

    "My dear fellow, then in order to please her, you must be elegant, and produce effects with your knees. Buy a good pair of trousers of double-milled cloth at Staub's. That will assist."

    I don't know about you, but I think that's advice on how to have a hot butt lol.

    I also love the quote that Coufeyrac says to Marius about what he's going to do to earn money and how if Marius learned English and German he could get a job and how Marius has to live on only 10 francs in the mean time.

    "The deuce," exclaimed Courfeyrac, "you will eat up five francs while you are learning English, and five while learning German. That will be swallowing a tongue very fast, or a hundred sous very slowly."

  4. You are better than I am. I'm not sure I could get through this one. I know the basic premise, but really only watched about half (or less) of the movie. Didn't really grab me... I know, books are always better, but realistically, if I put this on my list, it will NEVER make it to the top. Great review, though, as usual.

  5. Man, do I love this book! Awesome review.