Les Miserables

One Thousand Four Hundred and Sixty-Three.

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

24280

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

It Happened on Broadway

I grew up in a family that loves musical theatre. From the time I was young, we watched Disney movies and acted them out in our living room. The carpet was light blue, so it was often the ocean. Or, in the reenactment I remember most vividly, it was the Nile River, since The Prince of Egypt was one of my absolute favorites. The music in that one, am I right? I’m pretty sure we have video of it somewhere, too. Gawd.

Oh, and of course there were church plays. My most notable performance being some weird joke about taxes during “We Like Sheep.” The adults all though it was hilarious, but my partner and I had no idea what was so funny. I sure wish I could remember the punchline now. Something about keeping receipts in a shoebox. *shrug*

My sisters and father were also pretty heavy in our local community theater, show choir, the works. I was much happier putting on plays at home than in front of people, so I stayed in the audience.

Then I met my husband, who was equally enthralled with the theatre–I’ve told you about that before.

All this to say, when I saw It Happened on Broadway on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. I thought it was going to be a grand history of the stage, an in depth look at some of the most favorite actors, producers, etc.

Unfortunately…I did not get what I wanted. For people who grew up in the golden age of Broadway (that is to say, people much older than myself, living in New York City), this may be the perfect book. They are going to be intimately acquainted with the people speaking in this oral memoir.

But for me, this was a bunch of mumbo jumbo. I knew exactly one person–Carol Channing.

And instead of that grand history? It was as if I was at a party, trying to grasp on to pieces of conversation from everyone around me. I was so confused. This is the type of introvert nightmare that I avoid! There’s no structure, no chapters or themes. Just a bunch of people thrown together talking.

Now, maybe if this were done documentary style on camera where we could see the vibrant personalities, this would have worked terrifically. But with words on a page, it was lacking something.

As much as I love theatre and history, I am just not the target market for this book. It’s too bounce-around, and I’m just not familiar with the contributors. I mostly skimmed through and read a few, grabbing memories from people I recognized, but I just couldn’t finish the whole thing. It didn’t hold my attention long enough. I am not going to completely discredit it, though, because I am sure there are a lot of people who are going to find this oral history extremely amusing. It was just wasn’t for me.

 

Disclaimer:  I was given an ecopy of this book by Netgalley for review.