Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Les Miserables: still reading ... and less than 50% of my way through it!

I tend to read for about an hour or so each day (usually in bed, just before going to sleep) and I am still reading Victor Hugo's LES MISERABLES.

I read somewhere that it is one of the longest novels ever written ... and I can believe it. The problem is that Hugo tends to keep going off at a tangent for several chapters at a time. These 'excursions' or 'essays' do give useful background knowledge or information to the reader, but for someone who just wants to get into the 'action' of the story of Jean Valjean I can imagine that it could be quite tedious ... and I am making this observation whilst I am still less than halfway through the book!

Valjean is turning into quite an escape artiste, and other than the escapes he attempted whilst serving as a convict at the beginning of the book, he has been captured and escaped three more times so far!

I would still recommend this book to potential readers but with the proviso that they might wish to miss out some of the literary excursions/essays if they want to crack on with the main thrust of the story.

8 comments:

  1. I know how you feel. War & Peace was definitely of that ilk. Soldier on, I'm sure it will be worth it.

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  2. Moby Dick is rather similar. It's probably a three page story, with a few hundred pages describing the Nantucket whaling industry in great detail. It's been a few years, but I could almost swear there was a page discussing the financial breakdown of each species of whale based on the amount of oil you get from each etc.

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  3. This is how I view The Lord of the Rings. A good edit and it would be a much more readable book, and could probably be one volume.

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  4. Sean,

    It is worth it ... but I thought that I ought to warn other potential readers.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  5. Arquinsiel,

    It is that sort of detail that some people build whole academic careers on!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. SAROE,

    There are some people who would say that statement is pure heresy ... and there are others who would be in total agreement!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. Many of those 19th century novels, especially from before the 1860s, had that odd habit of lengthy chapters that had 5 pages of moving the story forward and 25 pages of...well, background and stuff.

    Try Ivanhoe if you want to see a particularly egregious example.

    Saroe, LOTR *IS* one volume. The division into three is an artificial division imposed by the original publisher. Less than a thousand pages too (not counting appendices). War & Peace is much longer, as is Gone with the Wind and (more recently) Maia (by the guy that wrote Watership Down).

    Love your games, Bob!

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  8. Pravoslavniye,

    It seems at times as if mid-Victorian writers felt that they had to describe so much of the background information in order to give their readers a full understanding of how their story fitted into a much wider picture of the world ... and in some ways they were right. I doubt if even an educated reader would have known as much about – for example – the whaling industry as it is portrayed in MOBY DICK. Melville probably felt that the background put the story into greater context ... and educated the reader at the same time. Victor Hugo probably felt the same way about the sewers of Paris in LES MISERABLES. (The ‘Victorians’ seemed to be obsessed with 'educating' people by giving them huge amounts of factual information!)

    This sort of thing is very rare these days, and I suspect that a Victorian-style novel just would not sell in the modern market, although ‘The Millennium’ novels by Stieg Larsson are very lengthy by modern standards.

    As an aside THE GUINESS BOOK OF RECORDS states that the longest novel ever written is À LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU by Marcel Proust, which 1,267,069 words on 3,031 pages, and was published in 7 volumes! LES MISERABLES and WAR AND PEACE are about half that length in words … and at present I have no plans to read Proust’s novel.

    All the best,

    Bob

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