Before we start and everyone becomes completely horrified and offended on the behalf of Victor Hugo, I know that the musical stage show of Les Miserables is supposed to be fantastic. I know that the recent film adaptation is supposed to be pretty fantastic too. I expect that the abridged version is also very powerful. Unfortunately, being an uber book-nerd that frequently inhales huge doorstep novels in a matter of moments, I chose to read the unabridged version.
Les Miserables is apparently one of the longest running stage shows ever. I can’t say I’m surprised – if it’s at all faithful to the book then the first ever performance is most likely still bloody going.
On the one hand it's the powerful story of Jean Valjean, a convict seeking redemption. Supported by a cast of thousands, who each have their own stories, it's also the powerfully irritating and soul-sapping story of a million and one other things that popped into Hugo's head whilst writing.
While the man could definitely write, he seemed to be altogether too fond of the scratch of his own pen and this soon became hugely frustrating - I lost count of the times I'd have been transported by a wonderful and engrossing part only to have to stop so Hugo could blather on for multiple chapters about nuns, sewers, slang, or something equally fascinating, to the point that I'd have completely lost the thread of the story by the time we got back to the characters. And even then I wasn't always safe, as his characters were just as windbaggy as their creator when the fancy took him (Why use one word when you have 20,000 more at your disposal? Chuck 'em all in!) I soon got to the stage where I'd have to set the book down and pick up something light whenever I got to one of these sections and would then have that horrible sinking feeling on picking it back up, all of which helped to add to the feeling that the events in the book were taking place in real time.
By week three, after some very heavy bouts of determined reading, I was only halfway through, and had started to wander around like this:
Starting to feel like I was trapped in my own weird version of Groundhog Day, where I'd be cursed to read this book for eternity, it's probably a good thing I read this on my Kindle rather than in book form as I'd have likely tried to club myself to death with it long before the end. When the end did finally come (six weeks later) I could have wept. Not due to the contents, but out of sheer relief.
It's a shame, as there were undoubtedly some moments of extraordinary writing and if I was basing my opinion just on the brilliant bits I'd probably look better too, but I'm basing this on the fact that this nearly completely rid me of my passion for reading and the fact that it made me want to stick to the shallow end of the pool for a very long time, until I'd recovered my mojo. I also had a slight breakdown shortly after completing this. I’m not convinced that this wasn’t brought on by the book, so consider this a warning:
Reading the unabridged Les Miserables will make you mental.