All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Les Misérables – Victor Hugo

on January 20, 2013

Les MisLes Misérables
Victor Hugo
Penguin Classics
2012 (originally 1862), 1232p
Read from my TBR pile

So when Marg first mentioned that she was reading Les Misérables for a read-a-long, I thought she was nuts. I knew it was the size of a large brick and probably relatively heavy going. But there are some books that you just want to tackle in your lifetime and this was one of them. I pondered the idea of joining the read-a-long for a while and then I had my decision made for me when Marg showed me the Penguin Clothbound version with this cover. I bought it and then thought well, it’s here now. I might as well read it!

Marg and I have done several joint reviews before – this time Marg has the first part of the discussion, which you can find over here at her blog and I have the second part.

Les Mis Discussion….. Pt 2

Bree: I quite liked Marius. I felt sorry for him in a few ways and because I knew nothing about the plot and so far there was a lot of people not being very happy in this novel, I desperately wanted him to find some happiness. Actually, I spent a great deal of this part of the novel fearful for his life, because everyone always says that they cry in the end of Les Mis – I was turning each page and wondering if some hideous fate was going to befall him. Both him and Cosette are similar in some ways. Marius has turned his back on a privileged lifestyle and Cosette has no real idea of the sort of life she can/will have. They are both quite content in their situations in some ways and I think they’re the sort of people who deserve each other. Both of them are inherently good and just and I’m not surprised they found each other. I do wonder though, at Marius’ parking himself near Cosette day after day before they speak. Would that be “instalove” or stalkery in this day and age?

Marg: Probably. I had been warned that I would cry at this book too, and didn’t! I teared up a little bit at a couple of points in the movie but not full out blubbing – not like my friend I went with who was still crying half an hour after the movie ended! I was talking with someone on Twitter the other day about the ending and the discussion was about how unhappy the book was, but I actually found the ending to be quite upbeat, or maybe that was just the fact that I was happy to be finished!

B: I found the ending quite upbeat too. And I didn’t cry (and I basically cry in everything – books, movies, etc). I’ve seen comments on twitter that people walked out of the movie sobbing and it didn’t stop for ages after they’d left the film behind!

M: I am a crier too….usually!

One of the things I often wonder about reading books in translation is how much of an impact the translator makes. I read a relatively recent translation by Julie Rose but you read a different translation (the one with the cover that I covet!). I thought it might be fun to do a comparison of a small section.

I forgot to note the page number of this quote, but in Bree’s copy it comes from page 1048, so quite near the end. Here’s the section from Bree’s copy, which is translated by Norman Denny:

Les Mis 01Les Mis 02











And here is the Julie Rose translation, which was read by Marg:

2013-01-13 22.27.07

M: Another thing I did want to ask you is about how you approach footnotes. I don’t know about the version you had but there were about 150 pages of footnotes in the version I read. Do you read each footnote as you come along to them, do you skim over them or something else? I tend to read the chapter until I find the first notation and then I read all the footnotes for that chapter and then keep reading. Most of the time that worked for me as a strategy although there were a few chapters that had 20 to 30 notes!

B: My copy didn’t have that many footnotes…. every now and then a page would have one, and I always read each footnote as I come across the reference to it

M: Would you recommend this to other readers? I would but with reservations. I think you have to be committed because it would be very easy to put the book down and walk away. I also don’t think it is a book that people who don’t normally read should pick up. I have been posting photos as I went through the book on Instagram and Facebook and one of my friends who hardly ever reads made a comment about going to the library to get the book and reading it! This is not a book to have out from the library, people! Especially not at the moment with the popularity of the movie. I was lucky enough to borrow it a couple of months ago but I couldn’t extend it again because all of a sudden there were 10 people in the queue behind me. Those people will have a maximum of 4 weeks to read the book. You and I are both pretty fast readers and I think you just scraped in under 4 weeks and I took about 8 weeks to read it bearing in mind I took a couple of weeks off over the holidays. It does have to be said that this book would be a perfect e-reader book because this sucker is heavy when you are hauling it around with you all the time. I was reading it on the train each day so I was carrying it  around a lot!

B: It did take me about 4wks but I really pushed myself to finish it over the last 4-5 days because I knew I was going away and I didn’t want to take the book with me (it really is a beautiful book!) and I didn’t want to leave it for 3wks either. It’s a big commitment and I enjoy reading a lot of books (I have a lot of books to read!) so I don’t often read books of this enormous size. It’s also a book that requires concentration (so no skimming! although I must confess, my eyes did glaze over in bits, such as the discourse on the sewage system). However I did enjoy it, actually quite a lot more than I expected and more than I have enjoyed other classic novels. Would I read it again? Possibly, far into the future. There’s so much in this book that no doubt a second reading would be of benefit. It also made me realise that I can enjoy books like this, because previously my attempts at classics, particularly translated fiction, have been a bit disappointing and I’ve been unable to connect with them. This novel and Anna Karenina have proved that there are classics out there for me!

M: So, I am about to start War and Peace. Want to join me again?

B: Well….it’s sitting on my shelf!


Book #272 of 2012

classicsclubI’m counting this towards my “50 classics in 5 years” challenge for The Classics Club.

7 responses to “Les Misérables – Victor Hugo

  1. Tony says:

    ‘War and Peace’ is probably an easier read than this one (well, if you get the version without the French…).

  2. I briefly considered reading it again (first and only time was about 15 years ago) before I saw the movie… But I didn’t want to miss the movie!

  3. Great post, I like the interaction you have with Marg.

  4. Great chat! I had no idea what Les Mis was about until I saw the movie previews and I jumped on the book-to-movie reading bandwagon. I’m 40 pages in and I still don’t know what it’s about lol. It’s a hefty book, so i’ve read it partly on my ereader and partly in print- i ordered a copy without realising it was only volume 1 so i’ll now have to order volume 2 as well!

    Sounds like it was a difficult read at times but well worth it. I’ll certainly keep going with it, though like the two of you it will likely take me a month or two or more!

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