As so many have discovered in the 153 years since it was written, Les Miserables is a triumph.
I had heard it called the greatest story ever told.
I was wrong.
It’s a story of redemption and love told through Jean Valjean, one of the greatest characters ever written. THE greatest? Maybe--I can’t think of one greater.
I was familiar with the story from the stage production, and I am actually quite impressed at the effective adaptation of the redemption of Jean Valjean. Oh, it is beautiful!
I wasn’t prepared, however, to be as moved as I was by Jean Valjean’s relationship with Cosette. The depth of their relationship does not move fully from the page to the stage, and for that reason alone reading the book is worth it for me. I have daughters, and I loved reading my own joys, pains, worries, and sorrows—written so long ago, but completely relatable—as Jean Valjean welcomes Cosette into his life, watches her grow and adore him, gets confused as she matures, finds joy in her every smile, moves heaven and Earth to ensure her happiness, only to give her away to another when true love comes knocking.
After 1,463 pages I feel like I should have my picture taken and hung on a wall somewhere like they do when you eat the giant stake or plate-sized hamburger! This book was long and in need of some serious editing. I understand the abridged version is just over 800 pages, and it likely omits the long and detailed tangents (SQUIRREL!) Victor Hugo was apparently prone to. If you’re interested in politics of 1800’s France, what it means to live in a Parisian Convent, the strategies and implications of the Battle of Waterloo, a discourse on the benefits of human waste and the sewers beneath Paris, or several other obscure and diverse topics, you can find all that between the covers of the unabridged version. Personally, I don’t like someone else telling me which parts I should read. I chose the unabridged version and skimmed/skipped whenever I wanted to.
I am so happy I read Les Miserables. We are all Jean Valjean. I just hope I can be as good a Jean Valjean as Jean Valjean was.