There are lots of things one could say about Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1808-1885-France). One of them is that it is a huge novel, up there with War and Peace and Clarrisa. ( I read it through Dailylit.com in the older translation by Isabel Hopgood. There is a quite new translation by Julia Rose that some say is wonderful and others say tries to make the book too contemporary). I am kind of at a loss what to write about it in a reasonable space.
I am so glad that I have at last read Les Miserables (I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame not long ago and there is some additional background information on Victor Hugo in my post on that novel). I really loved this book. I found the plot exciting. Some of the characters I hated, some I admired and some I did find a bit much.
The story of Jean Valjean is pure heart break. There are many terribly sad scenes in this book. There are long meditations on the events of European history. Much of it is a savage indictment of the incredible corruption in 19th century France. It is all about Paris from the halls of justice to the sewers. The section on the sewers is really quite amazing. A lot of time is spent on action during the 1832 revolution. There are lots of just brilliant asides. There is a very long account of Napoleon era battles.
The plot line does turn a lot on coincidences. The character of Cosette the adopted daughter of Jean Valjean and her relationship to Marius may seem almost too romantic. I admit I did not like Marius all that much once we saw how he reacted when he found out about the background of Jean Valjean.
Why is this book so great? Good question. It captures French society perfectly and through it nearly all of the human experience. The characterizations are incredibly deep. The action part of the book is very exciting (as shown by the various highly successful movies and even a Broadway musical based on the Jean Valjean and his pursuit by police inspector Javert ). There are enough meditations on history, religion, justice, the nature of society to keep you thinking for a very long time.
The treatment of the lives of the poor in Paris is at least the equal of anything in Dickens treatment of the poor in any of his works.
If I were doing a life time reading plan, I would for sure now put Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Norte Dame on the list.
Les Miserables is one of the great works of all literature. Maybe it is romantic and perhaps sentimental but it also a towering work by a genius.