Thursday, 22 October 2015

Les Misérables Read-Through #8: II.iii.8 -

It's been another really exciting week in the Les Misérables world. Loads of stuff has happened and Hugo is really drawing me in more and more. So much happens in these few chapters and yet it never feels forced or as if the novel running out of time and just cramming everything down your throat. A lot of contemporary novels feel like that sometimes, as if they're too aware of their own page limit. Hugo just takes his time where he feels it's appropriate and as such the pace of the novel is brilliant.

Plot Summary:
Cosette has been saved, well and truly, by Jean Valjean but she is not truly safe by any measure. Jean Valjean truly takes her away from the Thenardiers in these chapters and the way Hugo describes how Cosette and Jean form a daughter-father relationship is simply beautiful. It had me close to tears which doesn't happen often. The bliss that momentarily exists for them is beautiful but unfortunately also quickly dismissed when Javert pops back up on the scene. A chase scene occurs which feels a lot more tense at this point in the narrative than it does in the film because the relationship between Cosette and Jean is much more tangible. Hugo's decision to relive the chase a second time but through Javert's eyes is also an interesting choice.

Feel of the Chapters:
There is something truly happy about these chapters, at least about the initial ones. Both Cosette and Jean have suffered a lot and it's truly extraordinary to see how Hugo brings them to each other. There is definitely a sense of them healing each other purely by both having suffered and their (admittedly tangential) relation via Fantine gives them another reason to throw their lot in together. They bring out the best in each other and, for once, it's truly a relationship I admire.

General Thoughts:

  • Hugo has a really good feel for how to set up a new area. He will introduce a place by elaborating on a completely random person there, an inn-keeper or a landlady and although that character will hardly be relevant to the plot it will still be a great way to be introduced.
  • Cosette is turning out to be a really interesting character. In the film she feels a bit empty to me because none of her experiences ever seem to stick with her. Hugo's description of Cosette goes very deep and creates a lot of empathy for her.
  • It's quite special how Hugo manages to make Javert the villain while also making him sympathetic to the reader. It's a fine edge to walk and Hugo goes so with grace.
  • Hugo goes off on a small digression about Paris at the beginning of Book V which is lovely. It seems a bit random, perhaps, to go into such a familiar place but Hugo's point is exactly that his Paris is different from mine and different from yours. Added is that his descriptions of cities always make them calmer and more nature-like than anything else.
  • There is also an enormous digression about the convent where Jean Valjean and Cosette hide out. It's interesting and very much traditional of the kind of novel Hugo is writing, but it is a good thing that Hugo is such a good writer because otherwise it would be terrible.
'It was an inhabited spot where there was no one; it was a desert place where there was some one; it was a boulevard of the great city, a street of Paris; more wild at night than the forest, more gloomy by day than a cemetery.'
I really love this quote. Hugo is describing the boundaries of Paris, where metropolis fades into countryside. The whole being alone while being surrounded is something I really recognize from London and it's something I actually quite enjoy. 
'Poor old man, with a perfectly new heart!'
This quote was part of Hugo's description of Jean Valjean rediscovering his ability to love with Cosette. Fatherhood isn't something very often addressed in literature but Les Misérables does so beautifully.

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