Book Review: Les Miserables (unabridged)

For years, I have been a huge fan of the Broadway production of Les Miserables. The music is amazing and the story is incredibly moving.

So at the urging of my brother, I took the plunge and decided to read (listen to) the full, unabridged book by Victor Hugo. Now, after 76 hours of listening I have a vast new respect for not only Victor Hugo, but also the people of France who lived during that time.

A few observations:

1) I’m grateful I “read” the unabridged version because I’m sure I received greater details and have a greater understanding of the myriad of characters within the story. But wow, I know why the abridged the book. Hugo goes into extreme details about many things which seem to not really be part of the story.

I didn’t realize the reason for this until the end and realized that it is not just a story about a convicted felon, but also a historical novel that recounts some of the interesting parts of French his history. Because I had been exposed to the Broadway play first, I mistakenly thought the book was also only the glorified elements portrayed in the play. The book is much more than that. However, I’m still not convinced that I needed to know the history and details of the Paris sewer system or the strategy used in the Battle of Waterloo.
2) The details provided in the book bring so much more to the story. As an example, let’s take a look at the Bishop of Digne. In the play, you see the Bishop at the beginning of the play and then you really never see him or hear of him again. But in the book, Jean Valjean remembers and worships the Bishop. He morns for several days when he hears of his death several years later.

In every difficult moment in his life Valjean compares himself and his actions with that of the Bishop. He considers the Bishop a Saint and tries to emulate him in his own life. It’s kind of like Valjean asks himself WWBD (what would the bishop do) instead of WWJD (what would Jesus do).

3) I was actually quite shocked at the blatant differences between the play and the book. There are some very large differences which actually change characters. For instance, in the play, Eponine appears to have an unselfish love for Marius because she is willing to take the note to Cosette when Marius was on the barricade. But in the book, it shows a more selfish love.

Once she learns that Valjean wants to leave the area, she does some things that will encourage him to take Cosette earlier than expected. Then, convinces Marius to go to the barricade so they can die together. Although she does save him (by directly taking a bullet for him), it allows you a better glimpse into the actual personality (or spirit) of Eponine.

Another huge difference, at least something that is left out of the play is that the Thenardier (Inn Keeper that had Cosette as a child) family is more tightly integrated with the story. And how incredibly evil the Thenardier father is. In addition, Gavroche, the boy at the barricade that dies in the play is a Thenardier boy… neglected by his parent, he lives on the streets and becomes and incredibly good individual despite his circumstances and his parents.

So in summary….

Recommended? Absolutely! Abridged vs Unabridged… not so sure. Because I didn’t listen to the abridged, I don’t know the differences between the two. Because I have listed to the unabridged, I can tell you that there is vast amounts of important and critical information that enlivens and broaden the story. If you’ve got the time, to do all the reading, go ahead and do the unabridged.

Current book: 1984 by George Orwell

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