Review: Les Miserables: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by Victor Hugo

This book is a literally massive. For years I have thought about reading it, and though I am not intimidated by the length or the wordy writing style….I kept putting it off.

Even after seeing the film, I thought…..this is the time I am going to read it…..and then I didn’t. I knew it would take me a while to read and considering that the French translation of ‘Les Miserables’ is ‘the miserable ones’ or the ‘poor ones’….I knew it would be an emotional roller-coaster that I just wasn’t ready for in my reading.

Well no more excuses. When the new Penguin Deluxe edition came out, I was in some serious cover lust so I agreed to review it….no more excuses!

I’ve read The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Hugo and was frankly a little lost and found the writing bland, so I worried that this would be the same. TOTALLY NOT THE CASE!

I will say that it is helpful if you have seen the film or the musical, as it gives the reader an orientation within the story, but it’s not a requirement.

This book was written at a time when there were serious issues in French society. Hugo takes us through the criminal world, where we meet prostitutes, the poor, criminals….basically the repressed. His goal is to bring about public awareness but also tell a story that many can relate to.

It’s difficult to review this book in a short ‘review’ post so for my review I will focus on the mechanics of the new edition rather than going too in depth of plot.

This is a story of love, loss, and redemption. We meet Jean Valjean (the protagonist) who has been imprisoned for stealing bread. Inspector Javert (the antagonist), feels that Valjean is beyond redemption and will always be a ‘criminal’ in his eyes.

When Valjean is paroled, he meets the Bishop of Digne who gives him a second chance to make different, positive choices in his life. Valjean does just that and from then on we meet a host of people (Fantine, Cossette, Marius etc) whose lives Valjean has changed, all while he is relentlessly pursued by Javert.

I think what makes this story such a ‘classic’ is the cast of well drawn characters. Even in their most desperate moments, the reader can recognize or relate to something themselves in one or maybe many of the characters.

I think any reader will perk up and take notice when there is a new edition of their favorite classic. I know whenever I see a new Wuthering Heights edition I swoon. Les Miserables is no different. When I heard about the new edition, I was thrilled to have something updated and more modern to sink my teeth into.

The author’s writing style is typical of the period, a little dense and wordy but what I liked about this translation was that the translator really tried to make it read more easily and fast without compromising the content or original writing style. The translation is very modern which made this novel much easier to read but yet not so modern that the original intent is lost.

I was aggressively reading it so I got through 1400+ pages within about 3 weeks. I did take breaks in between to read other things so I probably could have read it much faster because the translation was so smooth, but it did take a while to digest the content, but not the presentation.

Now let’s talk about the cover of this new edition. Some people have criticized the cover art for being too ‘comical’ or ‘elementary’. I have to disagree, I think it invites new audiences to discover a classic that they might have been intimidated to pick up.

I might not be scared by the length of the book but many other readers might. I think the eye catching art work on the cover makes it seem approachable and definitely ‘readable’. So basically I love the new cover design and my review copy has earned a place of honor on my bookshelf where the cover can be displayed for all to enjoy.

This is truly a wonderful story and it resonates across the ages. I think most readers will find something to love and identify with throughout the story. The new translation will help attract a more modern audience and the cover will appeal to new and old classic readers alike!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Les Miserables: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) by Victor Hugo

  • Paperback, 1456 pages
    Published February 24th 2015 by Penguin Classics (first published January 1st 1857)
    ISBN 0143107569 (ISBN13: 9780143107569)
  • Review copy provided by: Publisher in exchange for an honest review

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 5 out of 5

Genre: Classics, French lit, romance

Memorable lines/quotes: 

The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

 

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5 Comments

  1. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never read this, though it’s one of my favourite plays/stories. It’s the length, I find it so daunting and intimidating. But you make it sound totally worth it. Maybe one day when I’m feeling really ambitious I’ll pick it up. – ashley

    Reply
  2. I have tried to read Les Mis so many times over the years. I get to the point where Jean Valjean is on the run with Cosette and they end up at the convent. I cannot get past that part for some reason. Next time I try and pick it up I will not start at the beginning, but start there and see if I can keep on going.

    Reply
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