Hello bookish friends!
Today I am sharing my second review on my reading progress of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I am officially half way done! Wow! This really feels like it’s gone fast.
If you recall, I have 5 “huge” novels on my list for The Classics Club so I am reading them one per year. When I read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy last year, I posted several shorter reviews of single books to keep me accountable and help me digest Tolstoy’s masterpiece. I am completing something similar with Les Mis, with a few changes. Check out my first review here.
Initial thoughts about part 2:
- I love Les Mis! I feel like such a nerd saying that but it’s true! The characters are fabulous, the story in engaging, and even Hugo’s philosophizing is usually intriguing. There is something about this story that draws you in and captivates you, regardless of the huge number of pages.
- I prefer reading this on my Kindle app over the hard copy book. This surprises me a bit as I usually prefer the opposite. But for such a thick novel, it’s far easier to read on my phone or iPad while nursing instead of trying to balance the big book. Also so easy to highlight quotes! I do like to chart my progress in my copy of the novel because I feel more accomplished when I realize I have read 700+ pages already.
- I’m already 50% finished! Seriously, this feels like a big milestone! For me, the last hundred or so pages before reaching the half way point were hard to get through. This was similar to my experience with the first quarter of the book. I recommend reading long novels like this with similar mini goals along the way. I feel more accomplished for reaching my goals within the novel and that helps me find the motivation to keep going.
In the second part of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, we continue the stories of Jean Valjean, Javier, and Cosette while also beginning the story of Marius. Valjean finds peace and safety for himself and Cosette within the walls of a convent. Javier seeks Valjean only to have him slip past once again. And we get the extended history of Marius from his childhood in his strict grandfather’s house, his education about the law, politics, and his father, and his eventual self sufficiency and first glimpses of Cosette (now a beautiful young lady) whom he falls deeply in love with.
I loved that we meet Marius in this section of the novel. I was a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of description that we get about him and his history. We learn details about his growing up years, the years he spends learning about his father, his discovery of politics and loyalty, and his slow progress to living well on his own. I think Marius is easy to connect with because he is so human. His views on all aspects of life, from his father to politics to women, change during this part of the novel. He makes mistakes, and he has to work hard to stay alive. He is just real, human. This extensive background allows readers to connect with him easily. Although, at some points I thought he would never meet Cosette!
The novel continues to be both wonderful and difficult in the slow pace. I enjoy the meandering way that Hugo gives us background on individuals, historical moments, and locations. Sometimes, I stop to admire a particularly gorgeous passage. And sometimes, it is hard to keep reading through the extended philosophy. This book can be dense and lack action. But then it also has driving plot twists and engaging characters. The contrasts are what make it so fascinating.
A favorite sequence in this section came during Valjean’s escape from Javier and his installment at the convent. I kept reading one more chapter to see how it turned out. From the escape from Javier to the experiences at the cemetery, we get action and suspense and excitement. I wanted more discussion of Valjean and Cosette’s years here. Perhaps we will get more details in the next section of the novel. Regardless, I think Hugo’s mastery shines through in his ability to both write a compelling plot twist and an extended description of the convent’s hierarchy with equal finesse and flair.
New Themes I am enjoying/pondering:
- The influence of others in our lives. Marius is first greatly influenced by his grandfather’s views about his father and politics. When he learns more about his father, Marius changes his views almost completely resulting in his estrangement from his grandfather. Is either extreme good or bad? Is there a way to live with both simultaneously?
- Search for peace. Can man find peace in a place? A state of mind?
Themes I continue to enjoy:
- Can someone be forgiven for their past? Is there a limit to the depth of forgiveness someone deserves?
- The search for truth. How can you find truth?
- What is identity? Can man create identity? Can man change his identity?
Things that are tricky and/or confusing:
- The discussions of Marius and the ABC Friends in the cafe sometimes got long winded and maybe even a bit boring for me. I had a hard time following the political discussions sometimes. But I couldn’t help but sing “Red and Black” in my head as I read these passages.
I continue to love this novel. So much to digest and discuss. Looking forward to continuing!