I thought I read the full-length book of Les Misérables when I was in grade six. But, it couldn't be. I remember it took me not more than a couple of days to finish the book. It must have been a significantly abridged version. Since then, I had been busy reading modern literature while I was ignoring this all time classic. Finally, when the Oscar nominated movie came out, paperback copies of Les Misérables appeared on the book stand of Costco.
And that's where I purchased a copy of over 1200-page-book and started to read. It took me almost a month. I could have read faster, but I didn't want to miss any sentence or page.
The book is powerful and touches on all of the human emotions and gets into the depths of one's soul. Hugo's insight into the historical period is phenomenal, and the way he introduces characters is just excellent. However, it's also true that the historical events, e.g. almost 100 pages of Waterloo battle, are described so much in detail that it feels like the story flies off on a tangent. Now do I understand that it's Hugo's very own style.
As the title suggests, most things, if not everything, that happen in this book to Valjean are miserable. Marius is quite too idealistic to me, Fantine is stupid enough as to fall for a man whose only interest was her body, Javert goes on trying to catch Jean-Valjean with no real reason at all and Cosette who owes everything to Fantine and Jean Valjean, is innocent, but quite spoiled, in a way. Many people have complained about that, but that is the very idea of the novel.
Nonetheless, with 1200 -1400 pages, depending on translation, the central theme that dominates the story is the REDEMPTION, that of Jean Valjean, and of France through the revolution.
Still, there is a Valjean's act of redemption I don't understand. Why did he have to confess everything to Marius who was not so realistic or mature, which causes Valjean's ultimate despair, and indirect causes of death? I thought about it over and over again, but I don't think I'll understand his act even if I read the the book again.
By the way, my favorite part of the novel is when Jean saved a sailor that was about to fall to the sea below. It showed Jean Valjean's courage and intelligence. He fell into the sea after he saved the sailor, only to escape. I truly admire his esprit and mental strength.
I truly think Victor Hugo is one of the greatest things to ever happen to Paris. I am so glad that I read this unabridged full version of this book. Les Misérables is one of the great classics of literature. When you first take a glance at Les Misérables, you might be daunted by the number of pages. But by the time you flip past the first page, the size doesn't seem to matter anymore. Once submerged in the complications of the characters and the story, the pages start to turn themselves. I strongly believe that it is a book that should really be read by everyone.
Last summer, we visited the Victor Hugo Museum which was the apartment at the Place des Vosges, Paris, where Hugo lived for 18 years.