Monday, June 18, 2012

LES MISERABLES: The Long and the Short of It

Recently, I decided that it was time to conquer Victor Hugo's literary masterpiece, Les Miserables.  I've attempted this twice before, but each time only got to about page 150 or 200 and then just couldn't face trying to plow through the rest.  It's not the length of the book that I find daunting.  My paperback copy is 1,463 pages long, and that's LONG, I'll grant you.  However, I've read Gone with the Wind more than once, and as you can see from the picture, that weighty tome is just about as thick (at 1,448 pages)--and regardless of the page count, I absolutely devour it every time.  If I'm thoroughly enjoying a book, I actually usually wish that it was longer and wouldn't have to end.  So no, the length wasn't the issue.
It's not that Les Miserables isn't brilliantly written, either.  Published in 1862, it ranks among the greatest novels of all time.  And I'm a former English major, for goodness sake. There's nothing that I like more than reading a great book.  I'd rather read the book than see the movie in almost every case.

The third time's the charm, I thought; this time, I was determined that I would make it through to the end.  After all, it's an engrossing, heart-tugging story, filled with history, suspense, and emotion; and I think Jean Valjean must be one of the most memorable characters in all of literature.

Well, I'm a little embarrassed to admit this...but this time, I never even got past the introduction, which includes this observation: "...nobody would deny that Victor Hugo's prodigious flow of words occasionally produces moments of excess, when we might wish he had shown more restraint."  I've already made the command decision that I'm going to shelve Hugo's brilliant--and unrestrained--masterpiece until another day.

My husband and I loved the 1998 film version of Les Miserables, starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean--and watching it inspired my first attempt at reading Hugo's acclaimed novel. (Great movie!  If you haven't seen it yet, you should!)  Then a couple of years back, my husband and I saw a wonderful stage production of Les Mis at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. Although it's not quite Broadway, Ogunquit is known as "America's Foremost Summer Theatre."  It opened in 1933 as part of the "Little Theatre Movement" of the 20's and 30's and draws big name stars each summer.  That musical version at the Playhouse was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes and inspired my second attempt at reading the book.  Apparently, a brand new version is coming soon to a theater near you, starring Hugh Jackman as Valjean and co-starring Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.  In fact, seeing a trailer for that upcoming movie is what inspired me--yet again!--to break out my poor, neglected paperback copy of the book, and to read it before the new movie is released.

But you know what?  Right now I'm feeling inspired to just wait for the movie.  Maybe I've finally found the book that--for me, at least--is not as good as the movie.  (Or the play.)

P. S. If you're reading this and you've read Les Miserables, do you think I should give it another go?  Leave me a comment if you loved it so much that you think you should try to persuade me to finish it.

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