"Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo

  • January 27, 2013 · 7:00 PM

Are you up for the challenge? Are you?? It's long (1400+ pages!), it's wordy, it dwells on lengthy digressions and details... But come on, it's Les Miserables! And as luck would have it, I have been planning on reading this book over December/January way before I ever knew about the movie coming out in December this year. Perfect timing! But the main reason you should read this book: So that when you hear the title "Les Miserables", while everyone else is thinking of the Susan Boyle cover, you'll be thinking of the gigantic accomplishment you've achieved by reading one of the greatest (and longest) books of all time. :)


On a side note, don't forget to bring a few books (no more than 3!) to trade with other attendees at the meetup.

And now for a wonderful review to get you motivated to start reading...

I began this novel somewhat reluctantly, having had bad experiences with French literature in the past; reluctance quickly turned into a gripping anticipation as to what would happen next and a veneration for the author’s preponderance of lofty moral and social lessons weaved in and out of the plot line. Though it took me a good two months to work my way through the 1500+ pages of the unabridged tome, the experience was well worthwhile. Yes, reading this book is definitely a major time commitment, but if you can swing it, don’t pass up the opportunity to read

It is difficult to condense the wonders of “Les Miserables” into a single article — this story has it all: love, redemption, revolution, good versus evil and much more. We first meet the Bishop of Digne, who, with his spiritual profundity and ethereal grace, is able to resurrect the goodness in paroled criminal Jean Valjean. Valjean, having been imprisoned many years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his impoverished brood of nieces and nephews, had a hardened heart. Having been wronged by society, he felt that he owed nothing to it. A chance encounter with the Bishop set him on a new path.

Jean Valjean, under a false name, rises to industrial power and eventually mayorship of a quaint town. In his new role, he meets Fantine, a woman spurned by her lover, enduring remedial labor and even prostitution in order to earn money to send to the aid of her daughter. Jean Valjean makes a promise to the ailing Fantine that he will find her daughter, Cosette, and take care of her.

Cosette, having been entrusted by Fantine to those she wrongly took to be good honest people, is little more than a servant girl to the Thenardiers. The couple had been charging Fantine with false expenses for Cosette’s care and pocketing the sum, while Cosette shivered in rags on the verge of starvation. Jean Valjean comes to Cosette’s rescue, offering the avaricious Thenardiers a large sum for her adoption.

This whole time, Jean Valjean is being relentlessly pursued by Police Inspector Javert. From the time that Javert uncovers Valjean’s false identity as mayor, Javert is never far off-track, keeping Valjean on his toes. And all of this described above only brushes the surface of “Les Mis” — this is only the first half of the story!

You may like this book if… you enjoy meeting very real characters, you like the contrast of noble and deplorable types, you enjoy learning history or philosophy alongside the main plot line, you like pouring over moral issues, you do not believe in the absoluteness of societal roles and labels, you believe that good things (or people) can come from bad situations, you want to read an enjoyable story coupled with layer-upon-layer of deeper themes, you like a little intrigue, a little mystery, you are fascinated by Waterloo, nuns, Argot or the 19th centuryParis sewer system

You may not like this book if… you simply do not have the time to commit to such a long read—that’s really the only reason I can think of for not loving this book (if only I could give in 12 out of 10 stars).



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  • James

    thank you rachel once again for hosting the meetup. you have also been such a wonderful mediator. i must say it is thoroughly enjoyable to be able to say my piece. for those interested in the account of the real events that inspired moby dick. check out this link www.tolifeonline.org/books1. scroll dwn n look for "in the heart of the sea" . till the next inspiring story then. cheerios

    January 28, 2013

  • Uma

    One of the most difficult and most rewarding books I've read with this book club, and one of the best discussions to date as well. Thanks Rachel and everyone else! By the way, this is the book exchange I told you guys about:


    Let me know if anyone is keen.

    January 28, 2013

  • Mark

    The book was brilliant in parts, disappointing in other parts, but overall it's a memorable book and I'm glad to have read it. Thanks to all who were there..

    January 28, 2013

  • Ferzana

    It was a good gathering last week and I really enjoyed the discussions. Thanks Rachel for organising.

    January 28, 2013

  • Samuel S.

    Good book, good discussion, good venue and good food. Thank you Rachel for organizing and everyone for your interesting insights.

    January 28, 2013

  • Hung

    Last night meeting was my first, and definitely not my last with the club. Thanks Rachel for organising and everyone for sharing your thoughts about the book/musicals/film.

    January 28, 2013

  • Thomas L

    Thanks Rachel for organizing. My first time with the group and the discussion was interesting. Sorry for the last minute RSVP and not finishing the book. To make up I've already read next month's In Cold Blood!

    January 28, 2013

  • Bhavna

    Haven't gotten around to read the book. But have seen the musical. Would love to attend the discussion though . . . Is it alright?

    January 26, 2013

  • Keiko M.

    Rachel, sorry but I couldn't motivate myself to read the book. I hope you guys have a great discussion. I'm looking forwatd to seeing you for the next book!

    January 26, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Hi. I couldn't read the book so I saw the movie instead.
    This is the first time for me to join English book club.
    Since English is not my mother tongue, I hope to improve my reading and speaking skills with you guys.

    January 25, 2013

  • Mark

    Trying to figure out which translation to get. According to the reviews every English translation seems to suffer from some major criticism…

    Fahnestock & MacAfee: unabridged, precise, but somewhat stiff and lacking the poetry of Hugo’s writing.
    Denny: captures Hugo’s poetic force and spirit, but slightly abridged and paraphrased, edits out the dull bits.
    Rose: unabridged, quick-flowing contemporary English, but too ‘hip’ and contemporary to properly be Hugo.

    A comparison of the English translations:

    And apparently there’s a new unabridged translation coming out in January, though that wouldn’t leave much time to read it.

    December 21, 2012

    • Uma

      I tried both Denny's and Rose's but I'm now reading Rose's as I personally prefer the style. Plus Denny's had entire sections missing, which I couldn't overlook.

      January 4, 2013

    • Rachel

      I've enjoyed reading Hapgood's translation. I like that it doesn't sound too contemporary; if I'm reading a book written 150 years ago I don't expect it to be hip and modern. Not that I can compare it to the original or any other translations, and I'm only reading it because it's the only translation that was free on my kindle, but I do think she has a very poetic and fluid writing style, appropriate for that time period.

      1 · January 9, 2013

  • Silky M.

    Just joined the group. Interested in maybe joining in on the Les Mis discussion. I'm so out of practice with reading, and worry I may not finish on time, esp if I start tomm. Is this task worth a shot?? Lol

    January 8, 2013

    • Rachel

      Yes, it's worth a shot! But are you a fast reader? It's a brave undertaking, but I read quite slowly. Even if you don't make it in time for the meeting, it's worth the read, and you can join the meeting anyway. :)

      January 9, 2013

  • Shreya G.

    Just started the book and I'm hoping to finish it by next week. Fingers crossed! I'm starting with the Hapgood version

    January 7, 2013

  • Uma

    I'm halfway through, and loving it. Great article from Slate (but beware spoilers): http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2012/12/les_miserables_movie_why_teenagers_tweens_and_kids_love_the_musical.html

    January 4, 2013

  • Ferzana

    I have persevered and am now in the thick of the book - and it was worth it! It has so much in it so I can see why it is one of the important books of the 19th Century. NOt sure I can finish it by the next meet up - it is a toome.

    December 31, 2012

  • Ferzana

    I have started reading it - it is not for the faint hearted! I will perserve but for how long? Anyone have words of encouragement??

    December 20, 2012

    • rachel b.

      Well in life there is always up n down ,is a part of journey for us

      December 20, 2012

    • Rachel

      No, it's not for the faint hearted, but it's a fantastic story! If you're intimidated by the size, skim through the parts that seem like too much of a digression, that will help you along.

      December 20, 2012

  • Caleb Y.

    I will be going. Thanks for such a interesting event.

    December 1, 2012

  • Rupali K.

    Yeah.. I think I will attend. I so love to talk about sewers.. Especially those in 19th century Paris! ;)

    November 27, 2012

  • Vid

    Great book, have read two times, ofcourse it was decades back. Will start reading now for the third time.

    October 9, 2012

  • Yan

    ah... victor hugo.. the guy who had enough realistic sense to know that in this world the esmeraldas of this world would never choose the quasimodos.....er.. wait... that's a different book! -_-;

    seriously... this one's going to be a LOOONG read! are you really going to do that? (((O).(O)))

    1 · September 21, 2012

    • Rachel

      Haha, that's why I'm posting it 4 months early! Definitely going to do that! :) Not expecting a huge turnout though, we'll see how many actually make it through. Or maybe everyone will just go and watch the movie.

      September 23, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      Rachel, thanks for posting in advance. I'm 1/3 into the book, so now more incentive to finish before January! :) It's a GREAT read so far!

      October 9, 2012

  • Cherlene

    I am hoping to complete it before I catch the movie!

    September 29, 2012

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