“Nothing discernible to the eye of the spirit is more brilliant or obscure than man; nothing is more formidable, complex, mysterious, and infinite. There is a prospect greater than the sea, and it is the sky; there is a prospect greater than the sky, and it is the human soul.”
1000+ pages? 1000+ pages! How would I ever get to the end of such a massive tome, so vast and epic a novel that it would have to span that many pages and cover such huge topics with scores of characters? These were the worries nagging away at the back of my mind as I picked up the novel and ones which dissipated once the last sentence had been read. I hated the film, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the tome that sat on my desk expectantly, being told how amazing it was by many and how insufferable it was by others. But I’m glad I read it. I’m glad I persevered to the very end and though I wouldn’t rush to read it again, I may very well return to it in a few years to be captivated once more by the human tapestry woven by the author, portraying the lives of the subjugated poor against the backdrop of the French Revolution.
I’m sure you must have, at least, heard of ‘Les Miserables’ at some point given the popularity of the stage show and the film currently playing in theatres to critical acclaim. But it may not have occurred to some that both were based on Victor Hugo’s epic novel of love and loss, happiness and heartache, life and death and many other factors that have made it such an important and relevant piece of work hundreds of years after it was first published. Convict Jean Valjean has spent a fair portion of his life in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family and then breaking parole which has brought him to the attention of the ruthless Inspector Javert. Once released, he breaks parole yet again and as he begins to rebuild his life from the tatters it was left in as Monsieur Madeline (and later, Monsieur la Maire) he is sought after vehemently by Javert. Fantine, on the other hand, seems to live a charmed life as a beautiful Parisian grisette until she is deserted by her lover while his spawn is still growing inside of her. A toothless, malnourished prostitute with shorn hair; such is her tragic fate, while her child Cosette is neglected by the cruel Thenardiers by whom she is being looked after while her mother struggles to make ends meet. Upon Fantine’s death, the reformed Jean Valjean takes her in as his own daughter and raises her to be a lovely, capable woman who becomes prey to the affections of young revolutionary Marius, despite the fact that he is being pined over unrequitedly by Eponine who also happens to be the aforementioned Thenardiers’ daughter. With the Revolution playing a part in each of their lives, their tales are painted against the background of one of the most significant chapters in the book of world history.
Phew. Still with me? Good. As I said before, ‘Les Miserables’ is long. It’s very long, indeed. This gives the author the room and time to convey the stories of these characters to us without it all seeming rather rushed, though it may very well be too much for most people. You are not to blame whatsoever, as Lord knows I struggled with this goliath saga for a while- but I carried on, and if you are brave/foolish enough to start it then you may as well finish it. Not so you can lord it over all your friends that you’ve managed to endure such a thing because it ought not to be a test of endurance. I have mentioned the length of the book a number of times and it did cross my mind as each page was turned and another chapter finished. But it’s so rewarding to finish it and to feel the impact it has made as I did.
Are you brave/foolish enough to take it on, I wonder?
‘Les Miserables’ is available on Amazon in paperback (£7.58) and on Kindle (Free)