Les Miserables – Victor Hugo (Part 2)

August 8, 2013

Maybe the best thing I can say about Les Miserables is that it made me look at Christianity differently.  I was raised Christian but stopped believing and practising when I was a teenager.  If I was forced to categorise myself, I’d say I was an atheist.  As an adult, I have to admit to having more of an ear for the negatives of religion – the wars, hatefulness and discrimination justified by doctrine; the parasitic opulence; the criminal concealment of child sex abuse.  This novel has not made these sins any more excusable.

It has, however, reminded me of the positive side of Christianity.  A good writer makes you sympathise with a character, and once you are hooked, the unfolding of their story allows you to experience a shade of a life you have never lived. Read the rest of this entry »


Les Miserables – Victor Hugo (Part 1)

July 2, 2013

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Les Miserables is a monumental novel with monumental faults.  At over twelve hundred pages in a single volume, it is, literally, the biggest book I have read.  When I take it out of my bag on the bus, I feel like I’m unfolding a piece of furniture.  If I leave it on my desk at work, people stop and ask “what’s that”, as if it’s sheer size makes it unrecognisable as a book.  My Arts degree was a smaller commitment (not that that’s saying much).

Luckily, most of it’s really good.  The scale of Hugo’s ambition and intellect is dazzling.  He attempts to capture the entirety of the social and cultural climate of his age, and in most cases, succeeds.  Unfortunately, he’s also a self-indulgent wind-bag who is so eager to display his vast knowledge and research that he is prone to long, trying tangents. Read the rest of this entry »


Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

April 25, 2013

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Humbert Humbert – what a creep.  Sexual predator, public masturbator, effete pseudo-intellectual; it’s not an easy prospect to spend 300+ pages with a pretentious paedo as a narrator, but Nabokov pulls it off (pun intended) thanks to some beautiful writing and razor-sharp wit.

Lolita is the story of a European literary scholar who develops an all-consuming fixation with nymphets – his term for girls on the cusp of puberty.  In his twenties, Humbert alternates between sordid indulgence and tortured repression.  His determination to escape temptation leads him to take multiple coalescence in mental hospitals, to marry the most coquettish woman that he can find, and even to flee to the arctic.  Conversely, his attempts to seek at fulfilment are so wretched and farcical that I almost – almost – felt sorry for him.

Inevitably, though, he accepts his perversion, and begins to seek out opportunity.  He gains accommodation and even marries a woman with one intention in mind – to gain access to her precocious twelve year old daughter, the titular Lolita.  The consummation of this obsession is the subject of the first book; the second is devoted to his downfall.

Read the rest of this entry »