[Les Miserables, Part 3]: A Review

Hello blogging world! I feel like I have been super hit and miss this month here on my blog. But it has been such a fun and busy month celebrating the holidays! We are so excited for Christmas at our house. And are almost prepared too 😉

Okay, I got really close to being caught up with my reviews. And then I totally got more behind again! Here’s what I have to write about:

  • Les Miserables, part 3 (what you’re currently reading)
  • Ballet Shoes
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Rilla of Ingleside (last one for #AnneReadAlong2017! So bittersweet!)

My grand total of books read this year is up to 47. My goal is 50 so I think that is attainable! Where has the year gone? Can’t believe we are about to welcome 2018!

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 reviews here and here.

Initial thoughts on part 3:

  • This section was so hard for me! Wow, I finally made it to the 75% mark! It took me so long because I didn’t read super consistently. And the first part of this section is not plot based. Rather, we get a lot of Hugo’s commentary on revolutions, war, the class system in Paris, etc. While some of this is interesting and I’m sure all was carefully articulated, it’s just boring sometimes. The parts I loved the most in this section were the action scenes or scenes when we learned more about the characters. The last 5% of this section was way faster than the first part!
  • Kindle reading is still preferable overall. Although, there were several long chapters that were hard to get through (20+ screens on my phone is rather monotonous). But it is easy to just open the app and read a chapter or two when I have some downtime.
  • I appreciate that this isn’t War and Peace. Yes, there is some dense commentary/philosophy, and, yes, the novel is super long. But it is so much easier to read than War and Peace! The balance between plot and commentary is a lot more even. And I can keep the characters straight (not so many as War and Peace!). Plus, because I already know and love the story, it’s been exciting to read about scenes I remember and meet characters I already appreciate. While it certainly takes time and patience and diligence, I think Les Mis is a more accessible novel.

lesmis

In the third section of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, the lives of most characters intersect towards the climax beginning at the barricade. Marius and Cosette finally meet and continue to deepen their love for each other. Enjolras leads the rebellious group that creates the barricade. Eponine saves Marius on several occasions and Gavroche plays a part in just about every substory. The section climaxes with the building of the barricade and Marius finding that Cosette and Valjean have vanished from their home.

There is a lot of commentary/political philosophy in this section. And it is slow to read. The first part of this section was the hardest for me because it was more Hugo philosophizing about class and war rather than focusing on the characters. I found some of it interesting and some of it boring. Sometimes, I just had to read the words of a few chapters to keep making progress. The story really picks up at the end of this section though with the erecting of the barricade and Valjean discovering that Cosette loves Marius.

I was surprised by how different Cosette and Marius are depicted in the novel rather than in the theatrical productions and movies that I have seen. I expected them to be more happy, innocent, and well off. But frankly, they aren’t. They are rather melodramatic at times. Marius’ life has been difficult. And he nearly dies of a broken heart when he loses Cosette for a time. Cosette is spoiled and a bit vain as well. Their love is innocent and simple. But their characters are a bit flat.

Gavroche was probably my favorite character in this section. Between his escapades as part of the barricade rebels to his sharing his strange rat-infested elephant home with his brothers (whom he doesn’t recognize), Gavroche is a bright, comic character in an otherwise rather dismal and depressing cast.

I was surprised how little we interact with Jean Valjean in this section. He is more on the periphery of the story rather at the center. Although, I have gotten to about the 80% mark and he is back in more of a central role. His transformation through three quarters of the novel is fascinating and complex. No wonder he is one of the great protagonists in literature and on stage.

New Themes I am enjoying/pondering:

  • What is true love? How is it attained? Marius and Cosette almost instantly fall deeply in love. Their love versus Eponine’s love for Marius would be a compelling comparison.
  • The Role of Fear. So many characters act because of fear–Thénardier, Valjean, Marius, Eponine. Why is fear such a powerful emotion? How can it be assuaged?

Themes I continue to enjoy:

  • The influence of others in our lives. Can we live without other people? Can relationships stay the same and be positive over time? There are some interesting relationships to examine in this section (Marius and Cosette, Valjean and Cosette, Eponine and Thénardier, Eponine and Marius, Marius and his grandfather, Gavroche and anyone, Enjolras and the rebels, etc).
  • The search for truth. How can you find truth? Who can you trust with truth or who can you trust to tell the truth?
  • What is identity? Can man create identity? Can man change his identity?

Things that are tricky and/or confusing:

  • Again, some of Hugo’s commentary is rather dense and difficult to understand. He makes a lot of allusions to history, historical figures, and philosophy that I am not as familiar with. I am sure his commentary is more fascinating than I am able to understand at present.

Well, after a tough section 3, I am already reading section 4 quite quickly! I want to finish by the end of the year so wish me luck! Overall, I continue to be impressed by this novel. So much to absorb and discuss!

Also, I’m thinking I need to go see the play again when I finish reading–seems like a fitting reward, right? 🙂

13 thoughts on “[Les Miserables, Part 3]: A Review

  1. I loved Les Miserables. I read it before I saw the musical, and I found it to be such a watered down version of the story–it’s so different. But it makes sense why it’s so popular, it’s a really interesting story. I agree with you about Valjean’s character, very complex. Thank you for writing this. 50 books! You’re amazing. I must read more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: [Les Miserables]: A Small Review – greenish bookshelf

  3. Pingback: Book Goals 2018! – greenish bookshelf

  4. I love reading these posts– it’s always so inspiring to me! I haven’t read most of the gigantic tome-like classics, but Les Miserables is one of my all time favorite musicals. In fact, for Christmas I got David and I tickets to see Les Miserables when it comes in town on the Broadway tour! So excited.

    The philosophy and commentary are what deters me from most of these classics. I just… I want to like it, but I can’t bring myself to care most of the time. I am certainly intrigued by how Cosette and Marius are depicted in the book versus the film/theatre productions. Any other changes which struck you compared to the productions you know?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Jackie! It’s fun to see your comment now that I have FINISHED Les Mis in its entirety. I feel very accomplished.

      Oh my goodness, I am SO jealous you’re going to see Broadway on tour!! That is going to be amazing! Literally just looked up when they are coming here 😉

      Haha, that is certainly the hard part. I think Hugo is more interesting/easier to read than Tolstoy is in the philosophy. At least, he ties it into the story rather than Tolstoy sometimes ties in the story to his philosophy–does that make sense??

      Anyways, one big thing that sticks out from the book is how complex Jean Valjean’s character is. The plays/movies just can’t depict the depth and breadth of his character. He is a classic character for good reason! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re DONE?! CONGRATS! That must feel so amazing.

        I completely get what you mean about tying story to philosophy or vice versa. Hugo isn’t telling a story in order to wax philosophic. He tells a story and the philosophy is just a part of that; he can’t explain it otherwise. Which, on some level, makes sense. The French Revolution is a crazy time. I’m certain he had some strong feelings about it!

        I hope you have a chance to see the Broadwat touring show! April feels so far away right now…I cannot wait.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. YES!!! I feel super good. Still kind of in awe that I actually finished it!

          Yes, exactly. That’s just what I mean. It’s fascinating. Les Mis is set in an interesting time in Paris because it’s post Revolution (which is 1780s-90s) and post Napoleon (early 1810s) but a lot of those ideas tie into Hugo’s work (and he gives us a very detailed account of the Battle of Waterloo which is more than I ever knew about it previously. haha). But he really is an incredible novelist!

          Thank you! You too! That is going to be awesome!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. It took me less than one summer to read this book. I do a classic book challenge where I attempt and finish a book in a limited amount of time. I read this unabridged book summer of 2015, which was the same summer I saw Les Mis in the West End. I even finished it before heading over to London, which was the week before July 30th. That classic book challenge sounds crazy, but prevents me from giving up

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is super awesome! How neat! I saw Les Mis in the West End on my study abroad about 5 years ago. It was incredible! That challenge sounds like a good idea to get motivated. I should do that for the end of this book so I finish by the end of 2017! Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

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      1. I saw Les Mis five times. All of that had to do with timing. 2013, my first time seeing it live, it just happened to be playing at my community college when I was still a student and I also was an usher so I saw it twice as an usher and once with family.

        2015, our church choir just happened to be asked in be in residence at Bristol Cathedral. Other members went on the trip to so it was the perfect opportunity to see Les Mis in the West End.

        2017, Les Mis just happened to be touring the United States. I had to choose between seeing it at Greenville with my school or in Charlotte with my mom and I picked Greenville

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