I honestly didn’t know much about Les Miserables before I started reading it. I knew it was about poor French people and that everyone was miserable (it’s not called Les Happypants). Les Miserables is Jean Valjean’s story of redemption and his struggles to stay on the righteous path, no matter how difficult that may be. Jean Valjean is a convict, freed from prison after 19 years for stealing bread. Society is not very forgiving and he’s not too fond of society either. He meets a priest, a saint really, who has such faith in Jean Valjean that he changes his whole worldview. Jean becomes a better man but the police officer Javert only sees a convict and spends the whole novel chasing Jean around.
I don’t know if that sums up a 1400+ book but that’s the gist of it. A lot of people die in this book- A LOT. Don’t get too attached. Again, read the title.
What I loved about the book was how Hugo was able to show the inner struggles of all the characters, especially Jean Valjean. If ever there was a guy with a reason to go on a rampage, it was him. I’m not sure if he ever had a happy moment. Life was always kicking him in the balls. Jean Valjean is such a complicated character and I loved him to pieces. He could not be the man he is without Javert, his nemesis, or Cosette, his ward. Would Jean have kept running if not for Cosette? Probably not. (Click the links for my personal feelings on Jean Valjean and Cosette.)
What I didn’t like was how Hugo would build tension and get the plot really cooking only to go on about Waterloo or Paris sewers for 10 chapters. It was as if he had done this research and just had to jam it in there somewhere. Perhaps he could have just saved that for a dinner party. “Howdy stranger, come sit next to me so that I can tell you all I know about French convents.” Anyway I’m sure some troll will come along and tell me what an idiot I am for not appreciating The Ancient History of the Sewer which, I shit you not, was a chapter in this book. Troll along, troll.
However, Les Miserables is a beautiful story with lots of action and emotion. I can see why it became a musical. When people are overcome with emotion, they just gotta siiiiiiiing!
I feel like I should say more about a book that took me 5 months to read. Really, what else is there to say about it? It’s Les Miserables! You just have to read it.