To travel is to be born and to die at every instant. -- Les Miserables, Victor Hugo, trans. Julie Rose
You don't want anything to change, for you hold the face of your homeland in your heart as you would your mother's face. -- Les Miserables
Winter was going, and winter always takes something of our sorrows with it. -- Les Miserables
Well. You saw this coming from a month away, didn't you? How can I not be talking up this book, after spending a wonderful February in its company?
Wow. Where do I start? Where do I start? After 1200 pages, it's like trying to sum up a continent, an ocean.
Is there any way to describe Les Miserables? It's certainly the epic of the life of Jean Valjean, and a miniature epic of the myriad lives that intersect his. It's also an epic of Paris, an epic of France. And in its way, an epic of humanity, of what it is to live.
It's also pretty funny.
... I always used to get stumped by that question, If you were on a desert island and could choose only one book to have with you...
Ha, but not anymore. I would so bring this book. It's like bringing all of civilization with you! That desert island would be packed with lives, voices, bustling, noise, the very highest, the very lowest...
Exquisite dramatic moments (I was gasping!), hilarity, poignant love scenes, clashes with villains, and then ... vast swaths of information. About convents, Parisian sewers, the Battle of Waterloo, urchins, even slang. It is massive, and it is brilliant.
And I admit: I was a little nervous about reading this translation. What if it was awful? What if it felt all slangy and packed with modern idioms? A cheapo version of a classic? I would feel so cheated, and my bold book dare would feel a bit silly.
But I was impressed. The writing was beautiful. Listen to this--
All the birds that fly hold the thread of inifinity in their claws.
To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable spelled out sparkles.
And other times, I literally laughed out loud...
To brush your teeth lies at the top of a slippery slope at the bottom of which lies: losing your soul.
How hysterical is that?
A heap of crap has this going for it: It does not lie.
That's no inaccessible classic, my friends. That's pretty hilarious. (And true.)
So it's a huge book, no doubt about that. But it's like the Grand Canyon, or a forest of sequoias. You need to witness something on this scale. You need to wade through something this enormous. You don't even have to do it in a month, you can take your time...
But I promise it's worth it. So go do it. Meet Jean Valjean and the bishop, meet Cosette and the horrible Thénardiers and silly Marius and the amazing Monsier Mabeuf. Be astonished by Enjolras, and let Javert make you nervous, and laugh at Petit-Gavroche. Do it. You'll love it.
Recommendation: Eat something French, for pete's sake! Black coffee, or a cafe au lait. Take it to your window seat with a buttered croissant, brioche and raspberry jam, or--for the love of sweet goodness--make this. If you're reading Hugo (and yeah, even if you aren't), you totally deserve it.
Seriously, if you're reading this book, give me a shout out and let me know. I'll totally cheer you on.