Les Miserables (Part 3) – 10 differences between the novel and musical

September 9, 2013

Do you like lists?  I like lists.  They’re fun.

1. Backstory.  Reading Les Miserables is like watching the reading the appendices of the musical – it gives you more backstory on the characters and era than you ever wanted to know.

2. Jean Valjean goes back to prison after he reveals himself in court to save the wrongly accused man.  He escapes by faking his own death.

3. Gavroche is the Thernadiers’ abandoned son.  They also have another daughter besides Eponine, and two more sons that they sell to be raised as nobles.

4. Jean Valjean and Corsette live in a monastery for most of her childhood.  Valjean first enters the monastery by using his mad-convict skillz to scale the outer wall.  He then smuggles himself out in a coffin, and re-enters by the front door to apply for the job of gardener. Read the rest of this entry »


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 »

Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief – Maurice LeBlanc

May 11, 2012

Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar by Maurice…

Arsene Lupin!  Gentleman Thief!  Hyperbole!  Ridiculous plot contrivances!  Exclamation points!  But fun!  Fun!  FUN!

A good holiday read, especially if your holiday is in France.

The Kindly Ones – Jonathan Littell: Part 1 (Pages 1-40)

April 19, 2012

But first, a word from our sponsors…

I’ve gotten bored of writing structured, essay-style book reviews, and thought I’d give something different a try.  My aim in writing reviews is to provide readers with an idea of if they’d enjoy it, but also to help me reflect on the book.  To focus more on the latter, instead of waiting until I finish a book to write a post on it, I’ll try blogging as I go.  Hopefully, this will get me writing more and help me capture what it’s actually like to read the book.  I’ll also be trying to write in a style that is more personal than critical, more fan-boy than academic.  Let me know what you  think.

And now, our feature presentation…

The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

My sister gave me The Kindly Ones for Christmas in 2010, and despite her strong recommendation, it has sat on the bookshelf unread ever since.  I was put off in part by its near thousand-page size, and in part by the critical acclaim plastered all it: “A great work of literary fiction, to which readers will turn for decades to come”; “A tour de force”;  “A monument of contemporary literature.”  There’s even a little red, round sticker on the front cover saying “Profoundly important” (this makes me wonder if it was stuck there on the production line, or if it was shipped out to bookstores later and bookstore clerks had to go around sticking little red, round stickers on every copy).  I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but since out-of-context praise sprouts on every book cover, I don’t put much value on it.  The more hyperbolic these quotes are, the more suspicious I am of them.

What really made me wary of The Kindly Ones, though, was that it’s about two subjects I’ve lost interest in reading about: World War II and the Holocaust.  This isn’t to say that I don’t recognise the scale and importance of these historic tragedies.  It’s just that they have been tackled so often and so well in literature and movies that I believed there was nothing new to say about them. Read the rest of this entry »