// book review: Les Misérables //

  
Recently, I (finally) finished reading Les Misérables. If you know anything about the book (accurately dubbed “the Brick” by Mizzies), you know that this is kind of a big deal.

And because it’s a big deal, and because I adore this story and these characters, I felt it was only right to give a review of the legendary Brick.

i. The things I loved:

-Jean Valjean is even more of a saint and a hero in here than he shows in the musical/movie. He’s fantastic. And really remarkably good at helping others.

-Cosette is SO much more likable in here than in other interpretations– she actually has a personality outside of loving Marius, who’d have thought? Listen to this lovely description of her: “There was gipsy blood in her veins, that of a barefooted adventuress. We may recall that she was more like a lark than a dove. She had a wild but courageous heart.” (p. 799)

There’s actually information about all the barricade boys. About their lives and beliefs and personalities– it’s wonderful. All the scenes with them were amazing, truly.

-Jehan’s death, while extremely heart-wrenching, was still epic– he was captured by the enemy and shot, but not before he could shout, “Vive la France! Long live France! Long live the future!” He’s so sweet and thoughtful but described as “intrepid” too and ahh he’s one of the best characters overall.

-The bishop (from the beginning of the movie/musical) is given a personality and a background, and he’s a pretty fantastic human. Incredibly wise and quirky and generous– everything you’d expect him to be.

-Éponine and Gavroche (yes, they’re siblings) actually have three more siblings who sadly aren’t in the other productions of the story. Their sister Azelma’s a couple years younger than Éponine, rather timid yet sweet, and then there’s two little boys younger than Gavroche, whom their mother gave away as babies because she has no use for boys. (Talk about dysfunctional.) What’s more, in a twist of events Gavroche (who lives in the elephant statue in Paris) ends up taking care of the boys, not knowing that they’re actually his brothers. Y’ALL. These kids. I just want a story where Ép and Gav survive the barricades and take care of Azelma and the boys and the five of them live on their own and become an epic close-knit family of rambunctious Thénardier siblings. That’s all I need.

-There’s another character who’s not in other versions: Monsieur Mabeuf. He’s this sweet and eccentric old man who adores and collects books (therefore I love him) and ends up making a brave sacrifice on the barricades. Also, this conversation between him and Courfeyrac made me laugh:

“Monsieur Mabeuf, you must go home.”

“Why?”

“There’s going to be fighting.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Sabre-thrusts and bullets, Monsieur Mabeuf.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Possibly cannon-fire.”

“Very well. And where are you going?”

“We’re going to overthrow the government.”

“Good.”

(p. 912)

-GAVROCHE. I didn’t think it was possible to love him any more, but apparently it is. In the Brick he’s this pint-sized firecracker who is always singing and always has a witty comeback to literally everything. Everyone tells him to stay away from the barricades but he staunchly ignores them and insists on having his own musket so he can fight with his friends. Enjolras tells him no and he gets one anyway, ’cause he’s Gavroche. He’s fearless and cheerful, witty and streetwise, generous and protective of those he cares about, and takes everything in stride. And oh yeah, he’s a preteen. He’s become one of my favorite literary characters of all time.

-I love historical fiction, so it was fascinating learning about 19th century France, of which I have little to no knowledge outside of Les Misérables. I love learning about their culture, their government, and of course their revolutions.

-Victor Hugo has created such a complex story with such powerful characters that this fandom is still going strong a century and a half later. And for good reason too!

-Hugo’s got such a way with words that I had to make a list of lovely quotes…

“While ignorance and poverty persist on earth, books such as this cannot fail to be of value”

Hauteville House, 1 January 1862

~

“Innocence wears its own crown, Monsieur; it needs no added dignity; it is as sublime in rags as in royal robes.” (p. 54)

~

“But we can no more pray too much than we can love too much.” (p. 69)

~

“The supreme happiness in life is the assurance of being loved; of being loved for oneself, even in spite of oneself; and this assurance the blind man possesses.” (p. 162)

~

“There are forms of ugliness which have their roots in abiding beauty.” (p. 343)

~

“A trace of beauty still lingered in the sixteen-year-old face, like pale sunlight fading beneath the massed clouds of a winter’s dawn.” (p. 633)

~

“Certainly they appeared utterly depraved, corrupt, vile and odious; but it is rare for those who have sunk so low not to be degraded in the process, and there comes a point, moreover, where the unfortunate and the infamous are grouped together, merged in a single, fateful word. They are les misérables– the outcasts, the underdogs. And who is to blame? Is it not the most fallen who have most need of charity?” (p. 639-640)

~

“Courage does not fear crime, and honesty has no need for authority.” (p. 664)

~

“‘You leave me to take the road to glory,

But my heart will follow you all the way.'” (p. 670)

~

“Rights too loudly proclaimed become unsettling; and so, once righteousness has prevailed, the State must be strengthened. Liberty being safeguarded, power must be consolidated.” (p. 710)

~

“Revolutions are not born of chance but of necessity. A revolution is a return from the fictitious to the real. It happens because it had to happen.” (p. 721)

~

“What is the good, after all, of having a pretty face and delightful clothes if no one ever sees them?” (p. 772)

~

“Cosette, knowing herself to be beautiful, lost the grace of unawareness: an exquisite grace, for beauty enhanced by innocence is incomparable, and nothing is more enchanting than artless radiance that unwittingly holds the key to a paradise. But what she lost in this respect she gained in meditative charm. Her whole being, suffused with the joy of youth, innocence, and beauty, breathed a touching earnestness.” (p. 772)

~

“So much has been made in love-stories of the power of a glance that we have ended by undervaluing it. We scarcely dare say in these days that two persons fell in love because their eyes met. Yet that is how one falls in love and in no other way. What remains is simply what remains, and it comes later. Nothing is more real than the shock two beings sustain when that spark flies between them.” (p. 773)

~

“There was gipsy blood in her veins, that of a barefooted adventuress. We may recall that she was more like a lark than a dove. She had a wild but courageous heart.” (p. 799)

~

“If there were no one who loved the sun would cease to shine.” (p. 806)

~

“Monsieur Mabeuf, you must go home.”

“Why?”

“There’s going to be fighting.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Sabre-thrusts and bullets, Monsieur Mabeuf.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Possibly cannon-fire.”

“Very well. And where are you going?”

“We’re going to overthrow the government.”

“Good.”

(p. 912)

~

” ‘You know, Monsieur Marius, I think I was a little bit in love with you.’

She tried to smile, and died.”

(p. 966)

~

“To die is nothing; but it is terrible not to live.”

(p. 1197)

ii. Things I didn’t quite like:

-Hugo’s got a way with words, but sometimes that’s not such a good thing. He tends to go off on random lengthy tangents about Napoleon or various historical revolutions or the Parisian sewers. I admittedly skipped those parts and will say that doing so in no way diminished my comprehension of the story. Just sayin’…

-Marius was kind of a jerk to Valjean there in the end when he discovered he was a convict. It made me mad because NOBODY has the right to be mean to Valjean. And then he wasn’t even friends with Éponine like the movie/musical show– literally his only interest in her was because she agreed to find Cosette for him. And his feelings for Cosette were even sappier and more annoying in here. He had some admirable qualities but was still one of my least favorite characters.

-Thénardier apparently has a problem with not recognizing any of his kids. Like his gang members have to tell him that Éponine is his daughter and Gavroche is his son. And he never acknowledges the fact that he had two other sons, yet they “look vaguely familiar”. Oh, and let’s not forget the time he made Azelma punch out their window and ignored her while she cried over her bloody hand. #parentingfail

-Gavroche died without knowing the boys he was taking care of were his little brothers. This just breaks my heart.

-There’s never enough details about the barricade boys. I would have loved to spend more time with them before they all, y’know, died. *sighs*

-Seriously, Hugo– why do all the great characters in this book die? I’m serious. ALL of them. It’s no wonder our fandom is insane– we have to come up with all these AUs and loopholes since writing in canon is waaaay too depressing. (But hey, our insanity is pretty awesome sometimes.)

… All that being said, the Brick is absolutely amazing, and it’s because these characters and their stories have a place in my heart that they affect me so strongly. Thanks Victor Hugo for writing this maddening yet splendid tale; I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and would recommend it to anyone, Les Mis fans or otherwise. (Just be prepared for LOTS of emotions.)

Want to occupy yourself for the rest of the summer (at the very least)? Read Les Misérables. It’s worth it!

{love, em}

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