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Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027
Les Misérables - Victor Hugo,  Isabel Florence Hapgood Whenever I get asked about classic book recommendations, I normally start by admitting that despite the fact that I read all the time and I have a BA in English, I am the worst literature major ever. You know those lists of the “100 Greatest Books of All Time” and you mark off the ones you’ve read? Even though I’ve read a good chunk of those books, the number of canonical works that I’ve read is pretty pathetic. (For example, I’ve only read one Dickens novel, and that was a children’s abridgement.) My history with Les Miserables is as follows: I saw the 1998 Liam Neeson movie in my HS freshman French I class; the next year I saw the stage musical and then proceeded to listen to the OLCR a couple dozen times. And then I fell out of it until the new movie came out, and on hearing about the number of details thrown in from the back, I thought, “Oh why not.” What did help out is that because I was familiar with the story, I was able to appreciate all of the extra detail so much more. (Same thing happened when I first read Phantom of the Opera.) Yes, I know how things were going to turn out, but it also allowed me to think “Okay, so how do we get from Point A to B exactly?” And putting the dots together made the experience more enjoyable. For example, at the end of the infamous 200-page recounting of Waterloo, when Colonel Pontmercy introduces himself to M. Thenardier, my reaction was “Holy shit that explains so much.” And even then, my thought process was completely wrong. And the backstories—again, despite knowing that everything was going to end horribly—the backstories add so much to the story. Fantine’s whole summer of love has so much more contextual weight when you find out how screwed over she got. (Fuck you, Tholomyès. Fuck you.) And Marius—I still don’t like him very much once he meets up with Cosette, but the whole background with his father and grandfather got me really sucked into his story.And even the long digressions weren’t that bad. Admittedly, I did tend to skim whenever Hugo decided to be very philosophical and ramble on about stuff that I’ve already gotten from the plot thanks so very much. However, the aforementioned Battle of Waterloo section and the other long descriptive passages, I really liked. The scenes at the Convent at Petite Rue Pipcus was one of my favorite parts, with the description of this absolutely rigid society and how Valjean is going to manage to infiltrate into it out. I actually also loved the “Intestines of the Leviathan” section because it’s so well-written and does add a lot to the story. And just the actual story of Jean Valjean itself is so good, I just wanted to keep reading the book.If there was anything else that got a boost for actually reading the book, the characters. The main set of characters I do still like, but I like that there was so much more added to them. (JAVERT SNARKS AND IT IS GLORIOUS.) This is particularly evident in the side characters, specifically LES AMIS. I love Marius’s friends, especially since we actually get to know them and not just specifically “Oh, well, you get one line.” Courfeyrac, as I have fangirled, is the best. Why must you die horribly, Courfeyrac. (Oh, can I tangent about the book vs. the musical for a moment? So, I had begun to assume that “Oh, so Marius finds M. Thenardier and that’s how he and Eponine are friends” while I was reading. And it turns out that Marius only talks to Eponine twice and when she’s dying he doesn’t recognize her at first. She still has a tragic death scene and the worst dying declaration of love ever, but “On My Own” just got a whole lot of new context after reading the book.)The only thing I really had a problem with overall was that every character keeps popping up by happenstance. I get that Hugo was playing on providence and that these characters were so entwined in each other’s lives, but it got the point that it didn’t feel like a surprise when he reveals “And it was SO-AND-SO!” It does work well at times—the last time Javert and Valjean encounter each other for example (and I felt so awful because I knew Javert was going to commit suicide and I didn’t want him to do it) – but most of the time, I was thinking, “Oh you. You’re not dead yet. Carry on.”This being the Kindle translation, I don’t think it was too bad, although there were places that seemed really choppy. It also seemed like the translator couldn’t decide what exactly should be translated in text as opposed to linking a footnote (I don’t remember half of my French so that didn’t help). Also, it took me halfway through the book to realize that the insistence of “thou” vs. “you” was supposed to be “vous” vs. “du.” Again, I don’t know if that was me or the choppy translation.My big argument for the classics (which I’ve amended from my Brit Lit professors) is that once you take off these books off the Grand Literary Pedestal and take the books as books and bugger to the thematic elements, they’re really good. Before I actually sat down and read Les Miserables, all I knew about the book was “TWO HUNDRED PAGES OF NOTHING HAPPENING.” I WAS WRONG. I really liked the book, even with all of the info-dumping and contrived coincidences. And if you think that you can just go see the musical without reading the book at all, you are sorely missing out.