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 »

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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 »