"Nothing can be sadder or more profound than to see a thousand things for the first and last time. To journey is to be born and die each minute."
You might have noticed if you've spent any time around my blog for, oh, all of this year, that I've become sort of... Ok, yeah, obsessed with Les Miserables. What started with the movie (I saw it TWICE at the cinema, which I basically never do with films anymore because dude, the cinema is expensive) culminated (NOT ended) a couple of weeks ago in seeing the musical in London, and in between the two was an epic, four month long battle with the book.
That's right, I said battle. This is not an easy book to read both in terms of there just being SO much in it that's good that you kind of don't want to miss anything, but then also there being so much in it that's irrelevant to the main story that I might have spent a lot of time reading at it SCREAMING at Hugo in my brain to just GET BACK TO THE STORY DAMMIT. I feel like this might be a hazard of having watched the film first, in that I cared so much about the characters that I wanted the whole book to just be about them (which, to be fair, isn't an unreasonable ask!) but then the flipside of that is, if I hadn't seen the film first, I'm not sure if I would even have finished the book. It's a harsh but true reality that, every time I picked the book back up after weeks away from it, it was with the knowledge that the movie wasn't out on DVD yet, and I was too poor to see the show.
Now. This doesn't mean that the movie/musical is the only good form of Les Miserables, and so you should just skip the book. No, on the whole I'm going to have to say that the rewards of Les Miserables are infinitely greater than having to skim read a MILLION pages about the Battle of Waterloo, or the Parisian sewer system (!). Although the book would be far far better if Hugo had allowed it to be edited properly (I think then, I could have called it one of my favourite books), the things it has added to my overall idea-in-my-brain of Les Miserables I wouldn't be without. But I give you permission to skip anything you think is irrelevant, because *whispers* it probably is.
See, see how long this is getting already? I don't even know where to go from here, because this book is EPIC, you guys, not just in, you know, length, but also in the number of Things it covers. Just off the top of my head, I'm thinking history, politics, religion, social issues, love, hate, justice (or the lack thereof), youth, morality- almost everything you can think of is right there in it, and that's just for starters, because what it also has are characters that are so complex that I'm still trying to figure them out now, and stuff that happens that is engaging and exciting and that I have Feelings about. So let me just... I'm going to say some things and they'll hopefully make sense and if not then I still need to say them, apparently. So yeah.
Firstly- Even though the massive rambling story deviations were pretty awful, there were extra things about the book that I did love, which were, basically, anything that was directly to do with the actual story. Reading the book means that you find out more about the kindly Priest (he's really awesome, by the way), little Gavroche! (ditto) and, possibly the thing I was most interested in reading about, how Fantine got into her, y'know, situation. Also, there were things that happened that the musical just really doesn't have time for, and they're still exciting- for example, at one point Jean Valjean is almost buried alive and my heart was in my throat the whole time. If I'm honest, I really just used the book to enhance the musical and the way I think about the characters in it, and... It really lived up to that task.
Nextly- I know I've mentioned already that I'm still trying to figure out the characters, but the book makes me feel like I'm nearly there. I got so much more from it than the musical shows, character-wise (as is natural) and I feel like I'm that much closer to understanding Javert and his INSANE conformity to The Law and to just how well that contrasts with Jean Valjean and his sense of justice having to fit appropriately to the situation, otherwise it really isn't justice at all. These two men, in fact, are probably the two most interesting characters to me, possibly because they contrast so well with each other.
Also notable- I feel like it's really natural to find Marius and Cosette kind of annoying because they're the only characters who kind of get everything they ever wanted (each other) and, in fact, the whole of Part Three ('Marius') feels kind of like a deviation from the story because it moves things on about one song's worth. But the thing about the two of them is that if they weren't in the story then it would pretty much make you want to kill yourself, and without them and their love, Hugo wouldn't be able to say things like this:
"There is no joy outside the ecstasy of love. The rest is tears. To love or have loved is all-sufficing. We must not ask for more."And- In spite of my frequent frustration towards Hugo, I feel like I also kind of love him? From a view of religion that isn't overly strict and is more based on kindness, and not even that, just the situation instead of some pre-ordained rules, than any religion that actually exists, to lamenting the fate of women who are forced into prostitution (FANTINE! Dear God, Fantine) and so so so many more progressive social views that make me want to give him a hug. If I'm allowed to see all the goodness that exists in Jean Valjean's actions as telling me something about Hugo, then I'm pretty much going to say
LET ME EDIT YOUR BOOK.
Slight backtracking- I know that I've said that the deviations are what stop this book from going from a good book to a GREAT one, but there are some exceptions to this. There were parts in the deviations that made me sit up and feel all shocked, and also made me feel vaguely sorry for not reading all of them properly, because what if the really really good bits were tucked up inside of them? Like this stunning piece of optimism:
"Our nineteenth century is great, but the twentieth century will be happy. Nothing in it will resemble ancient history. Today's fears will all have been abolished- war and conquest, the clash of armed nations... the birth of hereditary tyrannies, nations partitioned by a congress or the collapse of a dynasty, religions beating their heads together like rams in the wilderness of the infinite...One might almost say, indeed, that there will be no more events. Men will be happy."I like to picture Hugo writing this and truly believing it, and it makes me kind of glad that he never lived in the twentieth century. No more wars? No religious conflict? Happiness?! He couldn't have been more wrong about the twentieth century, but it's nice to know that there existed in him, as I think exists in all of us, the belief that things can be better in the future- otherwise, I guess, what's the point in living at all?
My love- is reserved for Enjolras specifically, and the revolutionaries in general. Had I been a male in Paris at the time of the June Revolution, I'd like to think I'd have been one of them, and if I'd been a woman I'm sure I'd have been hopelessly in love with a revolutionary. The musical makes it clear that Enjolras is not interested in love at all, but the book cements that with the information that he only bestows two kisses in his life, both on the body of a fallen comrade. Hot.
And finally- in my extensive research for this extensive post, I found out that, re: the musical, "Literary scholars condemned the project for converting classic literature into a musical." And I'm just... I mean, I'm assuming that's before they saw the musical, because I can't even stand the thought that anyone who's read Les Miserables could watch that and go 'yeah, but they missed out the SEWER EXPLANATION.' But even so, that still doesn't give any credit to the incredible emotional power that music has, and how well it can be used especially in this book, to pick out its tragedies and triumphs and really make you feel things about stuff. Because that's entirely what the musical does and it's fucking magical and literary scholars can just shut up if they think that it doesn't.
I realise that this post is a hot mess, and makes absolutely no sense if you're not at all familiar with Les Miserables, but this was really the only way I could write it- I don't know how to talk about things I love so much in any kind of sane way, so this is all I have (well, not all, but I don't like to GO ON, or anything). And I wish I was sorry, but I'm kind of not because this was the thing I wanted to write about it, and now I have and that's good enough for me! And I included gifs to try and keep you entertained, so pretend that worked, ok?! And go and experience Les Mis in some way, yes? It's kind of my favourite thing.