Les Mis is one of those huge books that people are afraid of--and for good reason, I have to admit. The copy I read was over 1200 pages long, full of weighty discourses on religion, philosophy, politics, and the nature of man. It's not an easy, fluffy sort of read that you just curl up with and heartily enjoy in an few weeks. It took me over a month to read, and that's saying something since usually I can blow through books in a matter of days, even relatively long books (as a point of comparison, I read Brisingr in a little under a week and book 7 of the Harry Potter series in three days). Hence, Les Mis was a book I went into with some trepidation, just because it really is so huge and has a reputation for being rather dry.
I did find parts of it dull. Hugo's retelling of the Battle of Waterloo is notoriously, ramblingly boring by times, despite the occasionally important details contained within it. Some of his inward discourses on religion and the reasons thereof also got to be a bit too much, but were enjoyable nonetheless.
And so, despite the many cons that could be lodged against this book, I heartily enjoyed it. The characters were beautifully engaging, even Cosette, who occasionally felt too much like a Mary Sue to my writer's mind. Fantine's story is so beautifully sad, so utterly moving on such a primal way--and I have to confess something. I wish she had lived, because she and Jean Valjean would have gotten married and been very happy. Perhaps that's not what would have happened, you say. But you are wrong, and I am right, and don't you disturb my "shipper's" heart.
Marius is easily one of my favorite male characters of all time. He ranks just slightly lower than Mr. Bingley, actually, who's a close second to Mr. Knightley, who just scrapes below Aragorn who's about five slots below Mr. Darcy, who's pretty much perfection. Don't judge me. I have lots of favorites. Anyway, even though Marius occasionally seems like a rather weak sort of fellow (for instance--what sort of man determines to kill himself because his girl is moving away?), he's still adorably sweet and his general state of distraction is so hilarious to read.
And then there's Jean Valjean himself, the central thread that binds Les Mis together into one cohesive whole. At times, I found him frightening. I found some of his actions detestable. I thought him the worst sort. But then, as the reader was taken into his mind and shown the torture and yet beautiful simplicity of his soul, you came to realize that he's really one of the most amazing people to ever walk the planet. His intentions pure, albeit twisted occasionally, he always ends up doing the right thing, even when it is difficult and you wonder why he did it. In the end, I believe he is possibly one of the most human (complicated, contradictory, yet beautiful) characters I've ever gotten to know.
These characters are put into a world of such beautiful complexity. I've read French literature, or literature set in France, before--The Three Musketeers, The Scarlet Pimpernel, things like that--but never one like Les Mis. Les Mis isn't afraid to deal with the most dark, horrible bits of humanity. Prostitution, murder, revenge, greed, all of these have a place within the story. Hugo takes a long, hard look at it what is darkest and most reprehensible in human nature. And then into that he weaves redemption: love, honor, order, honesty.
And so he wove one of the most amazing stories ever.