18 February, 2013

Book Review - Les Miserables: Volume 1 - Fantine

From Goodreads: Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean - the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread - Les Misérables (1862) 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 onto 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 which resulted is larger than life, epic in scope - an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.

Thoughts: Les Miserables is over 1200 pages. It's a big ask to read, so I am breaking it down into smaller parts reading and reviewing each volume (there are 5), most probably with a break in between each one.

The first volume is called Fantine and introduces us to the main characters of the book. I must admit I found Victor Hugo's massive tome a lot easier to read than I thought I would, although he does tend to be a bit wordy! Really, the man would not describe in three words when he could use fifty, would not use a paragraph when he could write a chapter. Despite this, I found myself not skimming as I normally would. As always, reading the book gives you so much more insight into the story than the movie. You get a full feel for the charity and kindness of the priest, the desperation and despair of Jean Valjean and the inflexibility of Javert. Fantine's broken love affair and her abandonment of Cosette is so much more heart breaking and cruel.

I must admit that being familiar with the story through the musical is making it easier to read - those parts where I'm not sure I really understand what is happening are easier to work out as I know the story. I will also admit to singing appropriate parts of the sound track in my head as I read!

While I am eager to read the next volume (Cosette) I am enforcing my break rule as I know I will over load if I don't. As I said in my first post about Les Miserables, this one is a year long project so I don't feel the need to rush.