Review of 'Les Misérables'

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

(1994 English Version) A masterpiece of European literature, Les Misérables is a work of art. Telling the story of Jean Valjean – a man convicted and sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread but when released, twisted by his experience, he steals some candlesticks from a local priest. This would be the turning point in his life as, when he is found out the priest denies they were stolen and were, in fact, a gift. The priest charges Valjean to be an up-right man which Valjean truly takes to heart as he takes a young girl, Cosette, under his wing as an orphan of a woman who fell on rough times. Cosette grows to maturity and meets Marius, eventually, the love of her life. A tragedy on many levels this is an epic journey of love, self-sacrifice and farce interspersed with many digressions by the author (including an interesting commentary on the Battle of Waterloo). A complicated but fascinating story is told with such memorable characters as Thenadier – the rather nasty inn-keeper (rogue, thief, etc) and Gavrouche – the urchin of the streets who gets entangled at the barricade which turns to be his downfall. I found the story difficult to read in places (particularly the political and socio-economic digressions which I could only barely follow due to the highly time-specific references) but the main storyline enthralling. A rather lengthy book but, in the end, a necessary and fascinating read.

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2004-09-20

Genre: Classic

Publisher: Wordsworth Classics

Publication Date: 1862