Yesterday I talked about the greatness of the book of Les Miserables and how much I loved it. Today I am going to tell you why it totally sucks and I hate it.
Les Miserables (unabridged version) is almost 1500 pages of rich story and characters. The story sections of the books fly by. You will quickly read through a couple chapters, maybe 10, 20, or 30 pages and just when you are really getting into the story...bam!, history lesson. You ever want to know about the history of French nuns and religious orders? Les Miserables contains about 200 pages of that. Interested in Parisian sewers, there's another 50 pages. Argot, the secret language of thieves, your thing? Another long section is dedicated to that. Plus of course there is a little history on prisons, Parisian society, and a retelling of the Battle of Waterloo, among other things.
All of these relate only very tangently to the story - ie: Jean Valjean was in prison, Cosette is placed with a group of nuns, Valjean is forced to travel through the sewers. In the long run, these sections probably did make the book seem more epic...but it also made it very difficult to read. The nun section foiled my first attempt at reading the book. I just could not make it through it. I struggled through the second attempt but I can not tell you how boring it was. The story sections, I would easily read 50+ pages at a time. Once I got to the nuns, I could only stand to read one or two pages in a sitting...it was that dull. I must say that I did enjoy the retelling of the Battle of Waterloo but the rest of the asides, I could have done without.
When he stays on task, Victor Hugo is an amazing writer...but these interludes where he injects his thoughts and opinions into a history lesson were too disruptive to the story line. I think they did much more harm than good. That is why I recommend everyone read the abridged version that cuts most of the pontification out and leaves just the amazing story.
Les Miserables - it is the best of books, it is the worst of books.