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Friday, 26 July 2013

The 'misery' of reading Les misérables

I started reading "Les misérables" today and have finished book 1 of part 1 (out of 5 parts). 
The book is huge. Over 1000 pages. I borrowed from the library and happened to get the unabridged version, translated by Julie Rose. I must confess that as I read it I waved between continuing and putting it down to read "Sense and sensibility" for next semester. I do not mean to criticise Victor Hugo, please don't frown- some passages are pure gold, and whether or not you believe it, for me length is not exactly the problem (I finished and loved every page of "Anna Karenina", see?), but this book is unreasonably long and sometimes verbose with numerous digressions and unnecessarily, irrelevantly detailed descriptions of unimportant things and characters that I feel almost masochistic though my feeling isn't exactly like I'm being tortured (which I feel when reading Jane Austen) but a feeling of indescribable impatience, for "Les misérables" is 1 of the few books that have obsessed me for years before I read them (another example would be, as written before, "Anna Karenina"). The whole of book 1, for example, is written about this bishop who in the films appears in about 2 or 3 scenes. Of course, he is significant in the sense that he changes Jean Valjean's life, turns him into a good person (or brings out the good man in him), makes him choose a different direction. I also see that his brief appearance in the films causes misunderstanding- a few days ago I saw somebody attack him and label him as a hypocrite, this person apparently had not read the novel. Victor Hugo lets us see, or to be precise, tells us, what kind of man the bishop is. But 50 pages is, in my humble opinion, a bit too much. 
Perhaps I'd better decide in the morning. 

Cons: 
1/ I don't have to read it. In my whole lifetime there will be lots of great novels I can't read anyway. 
2/ The book is improbably long and verbose. 
3/ I know the story well. 
4/ I should read "Sense and sensibility" before the semester starts. 
5/ Some passages are difficult to digest. 

Pros: 
1/ "Les misérables" has always been considered 1 of the greatest novels of all time. 
2/ One should read it for its examination of law and grace, depiction of French society, poverty, crime and law in the 19th century and Hugo's elaboration on politics, religion, morality and philosophy. 
3/ I love and am haunted by the story, after watching 3 films. 
4/ "Les misérables" is still relevant and significant today. 
5/ The book is very long so lots of things are removed when adapted, therefore watching the films isn't enough. In fact films can never replace the books on which they are based. 
6/ I'd like to gain more understanding of Javert. 
7/ Some passages are pure gold. 
8/ I've just read 2 novels of the 19th century, it may be nice to read another, set in another country. 
9/ When I finish it I can be proud of myself because lots of people gave up midway or haven't even read it. 



Update on 5/8: 
1 thing to confess- I did not go further than book 1 of part 1. 1st I decided to read "Sense and sensibility" for the semester, believing I could rush and skim through it whereas "Les misérables" would require more time, more efforts. The book sent me into such a rage that it reawakened my love for the Brontes and therefore made me check out the lesser known Anne, starting with "Agnes Grey", after which I moved right onto her other book "The tenant of Wildfell hall", which I am still reading. Chances are, I will not come back to "Les misérables" any time soon. Shame, indeed. 

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