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 »

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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 »


Gare du Nord, Paris

May 26, 2013

We arrived in Paris at midday. We’d woken at 4am and hot-footed it through the cold, pre-dawn London streets to make the early Eurostar, and the journey had left us feeling nervy and dried out.

Paris was the city M wanted to visit more than anywhere in the world.  We stepped off the train into the great hall of Gare du Nord Station.  The high arched roof was made up of squares of black iron and opaque glass that filtered the light into a white glare.  I clutched our print-outs from Air B’n’B and Google Maps, and hoped that our giant rucksacks didn’t make us look like easy marks.

We made our way to the station map.  The print-out told me which bus I needed to catch, and as I looked for the right exit a girl appeared in front of me.  She was young, maybe fourteen or fifteen, with olive skin and dyed-brown hair pulled back in a pony tail.  She was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a baggy hoody.  She was holding a piece of brown cardboard with a sheet of paper attached to it, upon which was printed a table with three columns with some names scribbled in the first few rows.

‘Sign the petition?’ she said in accented English.

I stared at the paper dumbly.

A large arm shot over my shoulder and grabbed at the piece of cardboard.  The girl twisted away and trotted off, grinning in a way that was both playful and corrupt, like it was a game she’d played a thousand times before.

‘Be careful,’ said the security guard.

We found the right exit and headed for our bus.


A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

May 8, 2012

Me at Shakespeare and Company, Paris

A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir of his early days in Paris and his friendships with literary figures such as Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It presents a romantic image of a starving artist, unable to afford wood for heating, gambling on horse racing to escape the bread line, but working everyday with great dedication to perfect his craft.

Hemingway’s portrayal of his first wife, Hadley, is full of affection and regret.  “[W]e were very poor and very happy”.  This contrasts with how he depicts his more famous relationships.  His Stein is a semi-tyrannical gossip lacking discipline towards her work.  Scott Fitzegerald was a neurotic alcoholic.  Zelda Fitzgerald was a manipulative and promiscuous harpy.  Only Ezra Pound completely escapes his vitriol.  The book is both a cautionary tale on the trappings of riches and success, and a surprisingly bitchy tell-all. Read the rest of this entry »