My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The book which the reader has under his eye at this moment is, from one end to the other, as a whole and in detail, whatever may be its intermittences, exceptions and faults, the march from evil to good, from the unjust to the just, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from rottenness to life, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God.
Les Miserables is the classic tale of Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for stealing bread, who escapes from the prison and — over the course of time — becomes a respected citizen, and foster-father to a destitute orphan girl, all the while still running from Javert, the only police detective who realizes he is still alive. All of this takes place upon the backdrop of the dischord of 19th century France.
I’ve enjoyed the classics since middle school, when a book like Les Mis could have earned me enough Accelerated Reader points for a hefty gift card to a local store, to buy more books of course. (I just checked, the unabridged version is worth 105pts.) I had not, however, gotten around to reading Les Mis, before, nor, sadly, had I had a chance to see the musical, so the story of Jean Valjean was completely new to me when I opened up the cover so many months ago, and I was not disappointed. I can see now why so many people are enthralled with this beautiful and terrible story of struggle and redemption.
Les Mis truly lives up to everything I expect from a classic. It has well-fleshed-out characters who are complex and with whom the reader can sympathize. It has a fascinating storyline, laid out against an interesting historical backdrop. I feel like I learned things from this novel, and not just because I had to look up unfamiliar vocabulary every couple of pages (thank goodness for the dictionary feature on the Nook!). Hugo manages to portray every emotion — from infatuation to despair to hatred to melancholy to insecurity to frustration to fear — in a way that makes the reader feel it with the characters.
YES, it is a lengthy novel, and yes, there are sections which I was tempted to skip (the lengthy description of the Bishop… the entire discourse on the Battle of Waterloo… the chapters on the history of the sewer — I kid you not), but even within these lengthy narrator monologues, I found things to which I could relate and interesting tidbits and philosophical ponderings which spoke to me as the reader, making it worth the effort of slogging through the ample text.
Overall: A beautiful classic, well worth the effort of its 2000+ pages.