Les Miserables: The first six months

Posted July 4, 2018 by Lory in challenges / 10 Comments

I’ve been reading Les Miserables for half a year now, and it’s been a very interesting experience. I fall behind a few chapters occasionally, but it’s not hard to catch up when the chapters are usually so short. At times it’s hard to stop when the action gets exciting, but I feel it’s a good practice to limit myself to one daily dose. The way Hugo shapes his chapters lends itself to this kind of reading. Each chapter is really a self-contained unit, and though they come in thematic or narrative streams at times, it feels right to give each one a whole day to experience and process it.

Some of the long philosophical or historical sections interrupt the flow of the narrative and stall the forward movement, making me impatient to know what happens next. I get a little weary of this sometimes, but not enough to stop reading.

In the story, after an exciting escape from the horrible Thenardiers, a dramatic chase by the fanatic Inspector Javert, and a brush with being buried alive, the convict Valjean and his adopted daughter Cosette have managed to hide themselves away in a Paris convent. The perspective has now shifted with the third part, “Marius,” named after the new character who has just been introduced. He’s bringing in some new elements, and as they start to come together with those we know already, the final conflict is already being prepared.

It occurs to me that the year has now also turned with the summer solstice; after a time of up-building and growth we are moving toward darkness, toward a decisive confrontation with the evil that lurks in the human heart. But this also brings a chance to connect with the light that still shines within, if we have the courage to do so. Hugo’s massive novel mirrors this development, another reason it seems appropriate to read it over an entire year.

If you are reading along, how is it going? Or if you’ve read this book before, what was your experience? How did you feel at the halfway point?

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10 responses to “Les Miserables: The first six months

  1. Thanks for bringing up the change in season to match the narrative! I never think of that sort of thing and am always so impressed when other readers point it out.

    Like you, I am mostly keeping up but occasionally have to catch up by reading a few chapters in a row. And yes, his digressions really do hamper the flow of the story. I usually have to read those in one go because otherwise I can’t keep track of them.

    I really am, however, enjoying this slow approach to a very big book. I am hoping that Sylvia (https://silviacachia.wordpress.com/ ) will host a read-a-long of Don Quixote next year. And I still have Moby Dick and War and Peace on my TBR. This way of reading might help me tackle them in the coming years too. 🙂

  2. I read this so many years I ago that I’ve forgotten most of the details but I remember the way it made me feel. Perhaps now is a good time to reread it. I don’t normally reread any books but I’m curious as to what my adult self would see that my younger self may have overlooked.

  3. I’ve always been kind of interested to read Les Miserables, but the size of it has always intimidated me, and I know a lot of people have told me that Hugo tends to go on a lot of tangents. I’m glad you’re enjoying it for the most part! Maybe one day I’ll give it a go! 🙂

    • Tangents galore there are, and it’s a chunkster. But the chapter-a-day method is working for me, and it’s an incredibly rich reading experience, like a whole world in a book. I hope you’ll try it one day.

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