Les Miserables

One Thousand Four Hundred and Sixty-Three.

That’s how many pages are in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

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I started this beast on Sunday. It has been a long time since I have conquered a book like this and it was almost as big a battle as the battle Hugo as writing about.

Ok…maybe not that big. But at times it felt like it. Like when we get through the biggest fight scene in the book–the big drama throw down at the barricade–and then we get a dissertation on Paris’ sewers.

No one kills a climax like Victor Hugo. WOMP.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. It’s impossible to read something this massive without having super strong feelings about it. This book is powerful, no way around it. And because I saw the movie musical first, it’s really hard to separate the two in my head. The entire time I was reading it, I was singing the songs. The main characters were their cast, of course. And I was pleased to find out how well the play actually did follow the main plot of the book…

…when we actually got to see the actual main plot of the book.

Here’s the thing about Hugo (or at least Les Mis, as this is my first Hugo):  he is the KING of context. For every 2 books/volumes of plot, there is at least one of scene setting or character building. For instance, before we even get to the storyline, we have to know every single itty bitty detail about the household of the bishop who redeems Jean ValJean. He’s an important character, sure, but a minor one. One we see him, he’s gone from the story. So why do we need to know Old Testament-level detail about his life? And we get that for nearly every single person who is introduced into the book.

You would think this would be a helpful feature in remembering who everyone is. But it’s actually just the opposite. All of the overcharacterization actually made it harder to keep track of the people in my head. It was just too much information. I didn’t realize until the end that Gavroche was the little boy until he took the note from Marius to Jean ValJean during the battle, or that Enjolras was the leader of the rebels. I actually had those two people backwards. Of course, I knew the main people–Jean ValJean, Javert, Cosette, and Marius–because, helloooo, I will never ever forget an Eddie Redmayne character, ever. But the rest is curtained by Hugo’s overwriting.

On the flipside, some of the extra stuff, even if it gets in the way of the story is interesting. Les Mis is as much philosophy as it is fiction. (Great historical fiction–but fiction nonetheless.) Sewer rant aside, there is quite a bit to be gained from diving into Hugo’s studies, even if it does sound like he’s standing on a soap box preaching at the top of his lungs. I also felt like I got much of the French history that I was missing. I want to go back and read parts of it from yesterday because I was not in the mindset to absorb it all and there was so much there that I have been wanting to learn about.

Les Miserables is a hell of a beast, but extremely worthy of my time and effort. I would suggest that if you’re going to try it, clear the other projects off your list.  This isn’t a book that you are going to be able share your reading schedule with, as I learned the hard way. Hugo requires too much focus for that. It’ll go in my reread pile…but not for quite some time.

 

Fulfills PopSugar #47:  A play

Fulfills Boxall #92

Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen

As the new year starts, we book bloggers have all set new goals. We finished our last book of 2014, and picked up the first book of 2015, hoping for a fresh beginning.

And…over and over again in the last few days I have seen posts all over social media from so many of my fellow bookworms about how disappointing their first new year book has been. Either it’s boring, or it’s too long, or it just isn’t what we expected. But it’s the first book! We have to finish it, right?

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My first book of the year fell into that same disappointing pattern with everyone else. I had high hopes for Jane Hawking’s memoir, Travelling to Infinity. I just watched the Benedict Cumberbatch film on Youtube not too long ago, and I’m so looking forward to watching the new movie with Eddie Redmayne. Stephen Hawking has always seemed somewhat of a mystery to me–our century’s most notable genius, and not only brilliant, but disabled with a disease that is so unknown. This is the exact type of biography/memoir I like to read–one about a person who has achieved so much in spite of so many walls.

The title is very clever, for anyone interested in this book to get to know the man and scientist. Because while I was interested in his wife, and I do realize this was written from her point of view–what I really wanted from this book was to get to know Stephen Hawking. The title is written in just a way to make you think that’s what the book is about.

However…that is not that the book is about.

Sure. Stephen Hawking is there. And you do get to see quite a bit about his deterioration. But his work? No, very little. And in fact, there’s hardly any dialogue with Stephen at all. Most of this book is about Jane’s lack of acknowledgement, and it comes across as extremely bitter. I can understand why she feels this way–she spent her whole life caring for her husband, only to be cast away for a nurse. I don’t mean to make Jane the villain of her own story…it just wasn’t quite the story I expected.

To be honest, I just found most of it to be really boring. I have no interest in hearing about birth stories and child rearing. Her descriptions of her Spanish medieval poetry were neat…when she wasn’t whining about all she couldn’t accomplish. I kept reading about the book only because I truly wanted to know the story of Hawking’s life–Stephen’s, not Jane’s–because he’s a figurehead of our time and it’s one of the things I feel I should know. I wanted to know how his disease progressed, and understand how he became the way he his now.

So, really, this book…meh. I got what I wanted to get out of it. But it’s not one I’m going to recommend with enthusiasm.

 

This does fulfill PopSugar #14:  A nonfiction book.