Sunday, 18 July 2010

Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I really don't know what to say about Les Mis.... It's such a famous book, and it touches on so many important things, but it was so irritating to read.  I want to love it, because the story, when there was story, was amazing, and I can see why it's so famous.  But the whole thing, 1200 pages, was just difficult to read.  I stopped reading it a few times.  There were at least 300 pages that could have just been cut right out.  I understand why there were included, but they were preachy, rambling, and not really all that relevant to the story.

Victor Hugo was a political activist during the 1800s in France, and everything he wrote in Les Mis makes perfect sense as coming from him.  I would say that all of it is perfectly valuable and worth reading, but I would have preferred to read it in a pamphlet or an appendix or something that didn't completely stop the story for a hundred or so pages at a time.  I suppose, for the books original audience, it might have been less disruptive since the book was published in separate volumes.  Still, I'm not a fan of abridged books, at all, but this is one book I would rather read abridged, provided it was done carefully.

His writing style is a little jumpy.  He goes from one subject to another, to a side story, to a flashback, really quickly, and said side story or flashback, or back story or rant will last 50 pages or more.  I enjoyed the side stories.  I could have done without the rants.  The beginning is all the story of a bishop who only has contact with the main character for a night, but it's such a good back story, and since the bishop has such a profound impact on Jean Valjean (main character), it's good to know and really adds to the story.  The description of the convents was excellent, as well as the bit on the lifestyle of the nuns and how the students there lived, but the rant about the evils of such suppression and seclusion, while being perfectly relevant and understandable, were incredibly disruptive, too long, and over-kill.  I think the reader could have come to the same seclusion as Hugo wrote without being told it, or if it was really necessary to state, seriously, footnotes and appendices.

I want to watch the movie.  I love the story, but it's so hard to pull the story out of that 1200 pages, because the actual main story was probably around 600 or so.  I'd summarize it, but I don't think I could.  I want to read it again and I don't.  I love the story but I hate the book.  There were amazing parts, I nearly cried on the train reading some parts, but then there were whole weeks worth of reading that I just dreaded trudging through.  I learned all about Waterloo.  I know exactly what Hugo thought of King Louis Philippe.  I know all about life in a convent, and the history of more orders of nuns than I can remember.  I know what he thought of the Catholic church, and I know where he stood with his own faith.  It's all interesting information, fascinating really, but I would have rather read it either before or after the story.  I would say certain points added to the story, but it took me over a month to read the thing because it made me just not want to read at all.  If I want to read an essay or a rant, I'll read an essay or a rant.  When I want to read a story, just let me read the story!

Anyway, I felt bad for Javert at the end.  He was the police inspector who was on the hunt for Valjean the whole time.  He was diligent, loyal, and faithful to what he believed only to find out that what he believed wasn't the whole picture and have his world shaken to the point of breaking.  I felt bad for Valjean, but he was so peaceful about what happened in the end that it was okay.  He was okay, therefore I was okay.  Javert just broke.  Marius is an idiot, which amused me when I read the biography on Victor Hugo at the end and realized that Marius's character is pretty much Hugo himself.  Cosette... I can't quite blame Cosette for being a twit because Valjean really didn't raise her to be concerned with anything.  She was still irritating though.

It's a very pointed piece of literature, but it doesn't make any attempt to present itself otherwise, and it's points get across very clearly.  Take away the rants, and I would say it was well presented.  The story of it alone, the last chunk that was rant-free, left me with such a strong frustration at social injustices and just the aloofness and obliviousness of people who live in comfort that I actually feel like I look at certain aspects of life quite a bit differently now.  It would be nice to say we've solved all of those injustices, unfair penal systems, child abuse, moral superiority, unfair wages, prostitution, cruelty toward women and children, but we really haven't.  For sure, things are a lot better in certain parts of the world, let's call it North America since I really only know by news and hearsay about Europe, and I can't say truthfully that Japan has solved any of those injustices what-so-ever.  There are still homeless who are homeless because they fell through society's safety nets.  There are still children who are left in abusive homes, or taken from one bad place and put in another by the system meant to protect them.  The elderly with no family are not left to die in poverty and misery any more, but I won't ever forget how depressing and hollow the nursing home felt when I'd visit my Nana.  Minimum wage, even at 40 hours a week, still won't feed a family or even support an individual.  All those problems are still there.

Japan... Japan is a social nightmare that one day I'd like to study.  One day, when it doesn't effect my daily life, when I don't have to go outside and see the homeless men sleeping in their winter coats when it's 35C under a cardboard box on my way to the station, when I don't have to watch the woman playing with her jewel studded cell phone and ignoring her two young children trying to get her attention on the train, when I don't have to be the only one in my row willing to get up and give my seat to an old person for a few stops, see the boyfriend flop himself down on the seat while the girl has to stand in heels and cater to him... pretty much when all of the surface symptoms of what is messed up about this society aren't in my face and ticking me off, I'd like to look at them and ask the question "Why?"  Ask why without feeling the desire to change it, because I can't, and that's what upsets me the most.  This part of Asia (I've been told by my college friend working in Korea that Korea is pretty much the same) would be an interesting social study.

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