Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Some readers skip the introductions to books. Maybe with good reason. You just wanna get to the story. My father always exhorts me to read the introduction. He believes there are priceless bits of wisdom and explanation there. Sometimes he's right.

In the case of Les Miserables, I read the introduction and absorbed a percentage of it. But now that I've reached page 904, I stole back to the intro to reread a bit I half-remembered and my, my, my! Such insight! This particular "introduction" should have been printed in the back of the book and retitled, "now-that-you've-read-the- book,-here's-some-interesting-info."

Here's an excerpt from the intro that stood out to me:

"Reading Les Miserables today, 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."

YA THINK??? Holy cow, this guy includes information for, in my opinion, at least four DIFFERENT novels. Maybe, just to toy with us, he threw it all together into a giant story casserole. You've got the meat, the story of Jean Valjean. And then you've got the noodles, sauce, and veggies in the 50 or so pages here and there about, say, the battle at Waterloo. Or Hugo's political commentary (rambling). Or discourse on French society.

Further, "While several abridged editions exist in English, that expedient seems a mistake. It is almost impossible to predict the individual detail, the flashing image or human quirk precisely observed, that will burn its way into a reader's mind for good....If the heightened rhetoric of elation and despair occasionally strains our patience or credulity, the quiet perception on the next page generally restores it."

This may be true. I'm somehow glad to have the book as Hugo intended it (though not in French), and while I have NO IDEA what his reason for including certain parts, those "flashing images or human quirks" he wrote so well do make it worth it. (Almost. I confess that, in my desire to find out what happened to the main character of the main story, I skimmed a couple dozen pages at one point and perhaps missed out on some brilliant sequence of words. I'll never know--I'm NOT going back and reading it again.)

So here I am with 559 pages left to read. If you're wondering, "Hm. Should I read Les Miserables?" The answer is yes. So I have someone to discuss it with.
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