• The Dabblers

"There are times when you want to tell Hugo to get on with the bloody story!"

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo


We have another highly amusing review from writer Edward Picot - this time it's about Victor Hugo's French classic.


Set the scene for us: What made you pick up the book? Where and when did you read it? How long did it take to read?


I'm not too proud to say I read this book because an adaptation of it was on the BBC and I liked it. I'd previously read 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', and didn't like it, but I thought I'd give this one a try.


How did this book make you feel?

Frustrated at times. There are times when you want to grab Victor Hugo by the throat, knock his head against the wall, and tell him to get on with the bloody story. But at other times, when he actually does get on with the story, it gets very absorbing, not to say gripping.


What themes did it explore?

It's about the poor of Paris, and more broadly about how society is structured to exploit and repress the lower classes.


It begins with a man being sentenced to hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread because he and his family are starving.


It's also about how this unjust state of affairs leads to rebellion and revolution: Hugo is quite pro-revolution.


What did you like about the plot/characterisation/writing style?

Like Dickens and Tolstoy, Hugo writes with great vigour and sweep, embracing characters from every walk of life, from the gutters of Paris to the aristocracy, and also offering us an overview of history.


Who'd love/hate this book?

The problem with the book is that Hugo's style is so digressive. He stops the story to treat us to what are basically long essays about various subjects - monasteries and convents, the Paris sewer-system, and (the longest of all) the Battle of Waterloo. He thinks he knows everything about everything, and even when he's getting on with telling his story, this can be a bit insufferable at times. On the other hand, if you like a really massive novel that you can really lose yourself in, with a huge cast of characters, some of them really memorable, and some fantastic storylines, almost in the style of War and Peace, then you'll love this.


Care to share a specific line or paragraph you liked?

Speaking of Paris, and of his own feelings about it, Hugo writes "you have left a part of your heart, of your blood, of your soul, in those pavements".


Found a funny/stupid Amazon one-star review?

"This horrible translation could have been done without even consulting the French original. John Doe could make this translation, for example. He would need to know English in depth but he wouldn't need to know one single word in French...

All he needs to do is to get a more elaborated translation, such as the one by Charles Wilbour, and make it more palatable to our fast food times, using fewer and "easier" words.

Then, with the right friends in the media and academic circles, he would get enthusiastic critics and his "new translation" would be a success. Too bad for the good translations that would loose their space on the shelves of bookshops. But who cares?" (Haj found this one, and that's just one of about 32 paragraphs!)


Thanks so much Edward for filling in our review form!