Les Miserables | Review

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean - the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. In Les Misérables Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them onto the barricades during the uprising of 1832.

Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait which resulted is larger than life, epic in scope - an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.

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Les Miserables was incredible. The book was huge, the characters numerous, the story complex. Everybody had their own tale, ambitions, and challenges. 

I have been reading Les Miserables off and on all summer. I FINISHED it. Yay! I feel accomplished.

So, characters, let's talk characters. This is going to be a character driven review. And there will be spoilers all over the place.
Jean Valjean. Jean is awesome. He's going on my list of favorite people from books. Jean Valjean has been through so much, imprisonment, being hunted by Javert, being reviled by society. But he does so much to help people after he has a change of heart. He goes out of his way to tell the truth even though the result is painful and dangerous for him. In my opinion, Jean's mercy and love, really, are what make the book.

Javert. Javert is the total opposite of Jean Valjean. Javert is obsessed with justice and doing things so correctly that he misses the point of having laws in the first place. He is so enmeshed in the idea of relentless recompense, he can't handle the idea of doing anything else.

Fantine. Fantine's story is so tragic, and it makes me so sad that she dies. But there's more to it than just tragedy. The thing that really stuck with me is that Fantine isn't portrayed as some vague idea of a girl gone bad, who conceived a child out of wedlock, and is forced to sell herself to talk care of her little girl - she's shown as a human being. She's a person with a story, a life. She has hopes, dreams, fears and she's a person, just like you or me. And I really appreciate that Victor Hugo told her story so well.

The Threnadiers. The parents of this family are horrible people. That about covers it.

The Barricade Boys. I've decided not to discuss them because I kept getting them confused. Plus, I can't pronounce half of their names, and that also confuses me.

Cossette. I thought Cossete was realistically portrayed when she was with the Threnadiers. Sometimes Victorian authors create characters that are orphaned, ignored and abused, and then these characters turn out to be impossibly good and sweet people, which doesn't seem to add up. (I'm looking at you, Charles Dickens.) But Cossette isn't like that, she lies, she's scared, and she has to go through a healing process before she's recovered from her time with the Threnadiers. 

Cossette and Marius could use some common sense when it comes to romance, because they fall in love at the drop of a hat, (well, actually there was a handkerchief in there somewhere,) but fortunately they are suited for each other.
 
Marius. I suppose I had a little trouble connecting with him. He was idealistic, romantic and rather impulsive.  On the whole, he's not a bad guy. Except that he doesn’t like Jean Valjean. And then he lets Threnadier go?! Marius, how could you? Sure, he wandered by the battlefield when your dad was dying, but that doesn't make him a good person.

But maybe that plot point was there to drive something home. That bad people don't always get what they deserve for being evil. And that good people don't always get the recognition they deserve for doing right things. That life can be gritty, miserable and hard. But there are good things in it, like love and redemption. And mercy, even for people who don't deserve it. There's a lot of redemption in Les Miserables, Cossette being raised by a loving guardian, Jean Valjean being a changed man, the bishop who quietly does good deeds. There's a lot of heartache, but there's also some wonderfully redemptive themes, and it's just a good story. I really liked this book. 

 Have you read Les Miserables? Seen the musical or movies? What did you think?

Comments

  1. Yay! You finished it!!! Now I just need to convince myself to start it...

    Paul and I watched the movie Sunday night, and I was reminded again just how much I love the overall story and how ridiculous Cosette and Marius are.

    P.S. I love your review layout. I'm trying to make my blog look cleaner, and am mentally filing away bits and pieces of others' ideas...

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    1. Yes, I'm so happy to have finished it!! :) Watching the movie is next on my list for the Les Mis experience! Cosette and Marius are pretty ridiculous; I'm not a fan of insta-love.

      Thanks!

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  2. Congratulations! I've read it myself, so I know it's a labor of love at times :)
    Les Miserables is one of the most powerful epics of mercy, justice, and redemption I've ever read, and worth any harder bits (erm, all the bits about the Parisian sewers - it's fascinating, but distracting).
    I also love the musical and the movie. I had a major obsession with the musical when I was fourteen, but that's honestly what got me to pick up the book in the first place.
    I'm glad you liked it!

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    1. Thanks! Yes, it's a great story, there are so many good elements in it! And the part about the sewers had me kind of wondering what Hugo was doing add to the story by adding a history the Parisian sewers, it almost felt like it interrupted the climax...

      Glad to know you like the musical and movie! I'm planning on seeing the movie soon!

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    2. Warning, the movie is pretty graphic - but I thought it did a great job of capturing/conveying the story. Still, the Lovely Ladies sequence horrifies me (I feel like I should pass that on). Fantine's experiences are 100% horrible, and the movie really hammered that home.
      The death of all the Barricade Boys is a lot more like the book (that's one of my favorite parts - when Enjolras stands up to the odds and Grantaire decides to stand for something).

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    3. Thanks for letting me know! I may be skipping that scene...

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  3. Congratulations on finishing Les Mis. I have to admit, I haven't yet made it through the book. I started it, but there was so much history interrupting my plot. Which would definitely enhance the book for other people, but sadly I like to get straight to the story without history butting in. I do want to read it properly in the future though. But I have seen the movie, and really enjoyed it. I also have a copy of the musical, but I haven't had a chance to watch it yet. You've just reminded me of how much I do want to see it though. Looks like I'll have to schedule a lazy evening of movie watching somewhere in my future.

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    1. Thanks! It did have a lot of history, sometimes it was a challenge to read. Glad to hear you liked to movie! I'm looking forward to seeing it.

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  4. WOW. Congratulations on finishing! *applauds* I read it back in January and remember how long it was, but it was definitely worth it in the end, right? ;) So glad you liked it as much as I did. (I'm a theatre kid at heart so I was kind of destined to love it - LOL). Thanks for sharing this wonderful review! ♥

    ~ Zoe @ Stories on Stage

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  5. Thanks! Yes, Les Mis is so long, but it was certainly worth it - it's a fabulous book! Thanks for stopping by! :)

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