LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo | Review

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose. 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 that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope—an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart. {Goodreads}

Until a few months ago, all I knew about Les Misérables was that it was a huge book, a long movie/musical, and involved someone going to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Suffice it to say that this lack of information has been remedied. After watching the 2012 film adaptation and repeatedly listening to the soundtrack for weeks on end, I finally decided to go the extra mile and read the 1463-page Victor Hugo novel on which the musical is based.

When I told my friends that I was reading this book they looked at me as though I had suddenly sprouted glittery fairy wings out of my shoulder blades. What on earth was I thinking? Why would I dedicate so much time to reading a novel when I already knew the basic plot from the musical? But that was precisely the point: surely the musical couldn’t be exactly like the novel itself. Curious to see the differences between these works, I plugged in my headphones and plunged into the audiobook.

This brings me to my next point: I would highly recommend listening to the audiobook version of Les Mis if the idea of flipping through over a thousand pages of text makes you want to run and hide. Not only are there some great vocal performers reading the novel, but it also allows you to still read while doing other things (laundry, cooking, walking, etc.). What at first seems like a formidable tome that will never be finished suddenly becomes much more manageable as a 10+ hour audiobook.

The novel itself is brilliant. It possesses all of the qualities I love in literature: beautiful writing that makes you relish every word, characters that seem like people you’ve known for years, action that makes you want to keep reading even when you know you should’ve gone to sleep a long time ago, and perspectives on life that you had never fully considered before. This novel surprised me in countless ways, from its unexpected poignancy and wit to way it focused much more on the story of Jean Valjean than did the film or musical. We weren’t introduced to a wider cast of characters until about halfway through the novel, which I actually preferred. Rather than rush through the back story of arguably the most important character in the story, Hugo properly develops Valjean’s personality and past before building upon it in the rest of the novel as other characters come into play.

Is this book over-the-top at times? Yes. Is it sometimes cheesy, cliché, and unrealistic? Yes again. However, Hugo also makes important points about poverty, growing up, justice, truth, and rebellion. This novel may be set centuries in the past, but it nevertheless remains relevant in our society today.

Overall, I am so glad I decided to take the leap and read this massive novel. I highly recommend this to anyone who is a fan of the musical or simply interested in literature from the nineteenth century. Besides, what better way is there to fuel your love for the musical than by reading the novel on which it is based?

What are your thoughts on this novel or musical? Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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26 thoughts on “LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo | Review

  1. I had no idea that “Les Miserables” is such a long book! I’ve also seen the musical, but that’s pretty much it … your enthusiasm about the book definitely raised my interest in reading the book as well! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My love for the musical led me to reading the book.

    I actually used my knowledge of the musical to help me understand the book. It helped me understand what was going on even though there are differences. I was able to apply my muiscal knowledge to the book and wrote in songs.

    I love both the book and musical

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    1. I agree! It was nice to be able to picture many scenes in my mind because they are also in the musical. Sometimes seeing the film before reading a book is really helpful!

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  3. One of the greatest novels ever. I read it in French. on a phone, since the e-book version was free, and print versions, even used, were beyond my budget. Though I dislike reading on a phone, I don’t regret a single word of it. Drama, humor, compassion, and such fine writing (in the original) that I unconsciously found myself reading aloud sometimes.

    “Notre Dame de Paris” (“Hunchback of Notre Dame” in English) is almost as great, with the most heartwrenching ending ever. (Warning: it’s not the heroic Hollywood ending of the films….) And one of that book’s notorious digressions comprises the finest essay on architecture I’ve ever read.

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    1. Wow, reading this on your phone must have been quite a saga! Thanks so much for the Hunchback of Notre Dame recommendation– I’ve never read it before, but now I’ll add it to my list!

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  4. Les Mis has been on my shelves for YEARS and I really want to read it, but the size is scaring me haha. I did start last year (or maybe it was already the year before that???) and I liked what I read, but school got busy and when I’m tired after school I don’t feel like picking up such a massive book haha. One day though!

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  5. Great review! I love this book and I love that it’s over a 1,000 pages. As you said, the messages on poverty and the things it drives people to do can have tragic consequences or… in Jean Valjean’s case, it teaches him to be a truly wonderful and generous human being.

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  6. Obsessed Les Mis fan. I was obsessed with the musical before reading the book. I used the musical to help me read the book. I used the actual novel to read the book. I wrote in songs. Yes, there were some character differences. My interpretations of the characters is a combination of who they are they in the musical and who they are in the musical plus the portrayals of the actors/actresses I have seen play them in the musical.

    To say which I like more, there is no comparison. Both the musical and book are masterpieces in their own right. I read the book because of my strong love for the musical

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Never thought I would love a story like Les Mis. In high school, told myself I will never love a TRAGEDY.

        Then in my first year of college, watched the musical movie of Les Mis. I was shocked and confused after Fantine died: that is when I realized Les Mis was tragic. I was like, “what Les Mis is tragic, musicals aren’t supposed to be that way”. I didn’t know how to respond.

        So I had to give it a 2nd chance before knowing if I was a fan of Les Mis or not- that was March 2013- by Summer 2013- I was obsessed with Les Mis.

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