- Author Victor Hugo
I used to own this in a two-volume paperback set, and I remember picking out bits here and there but never really reading much of it in one go. As a big fan of the musical, I’ve enjoyed the renaissance it has had since the film came out (haven’t seen it yet though) and thought it was a good time to really give the book a firm go. Once I started, it soon became clear this was on the same level as War and Peace - long, sprawling, but with great characters.
I found it sustained my interest more than War and Peace did, perhaps because I already knew the story, perhaps because the characters are just so much more intriguing. I enjoyed how much depth even minor characters get. The full history on the Bishop, who has a small part to play in the action, but a long-lasting legacy. The detail for those on the barricade who do not last much more than a few chapters.
The detail can become too much. I can’t promise that I read and understood every word of the chapters detailing the history of Paris sewers, or the philosophy behind nunneries. There were prolonged sections that made little sense to me, but when the characters were present, it was fantastic. The twists and turns, how these people weave in and out of each others’ lives, it’s glorious.
I enjoyed the extra detail there is to the book compared to the stripped down musical - the buried alive escape, the letter Javert writes before his death, much of Marius’ history. But equally, I loved the moments where they coincide, “Cosette, forbid me now to die,” etc. The recognisable moments throughout made it far easier to keep going, and I’m very glad I finished it this time.