Book Review: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

les mis Les Miserables (Vol 1 and 2) by Victor Hugo


TBR pile

Wordworth Edition, 1994

 Synopsis- One of the great classics of western literature, Les Misérables is a magisterial work which is rich in both character portrayal and meticulous historical description.

Characters such as the absurdly criminalised Valjean, the street urchin Gavroche, the rascal Thenardier, the implacable detective Javert, and the pitiful figure of the prostitute Fantine and her daughter Cosette, have entered the pantheon of literary dramatis personae.

The reader is also treated to the unforgettable descriptions of the Battle of Waterloo and Valjean’s flight through the Paris sewers.

Review- So I finally tackled this monstrous classic. It took me well over two months to get through the first volume and several weeks to get through the second. There were many times I considered giving up and times I felt completely lost. In fact because of the intimidating page count I started to jot down my thoughts in a journal-like fashion to keep a record of my thoughts. I knew that when I got to the stage where I sat down to write the review it would be a daunting task. My forethought was pointless because I stopped taking notes halfway through the first volume, so this is going to be quite an ad hoc review! I won’t go into too much detail about the plot because this book has been reviewed innumerable times before and if you’ve thought about picking up this classic then my review probably won’t sway you either way.

So here were my initial thoughts…

  • I feel  a little lost. I want to connect with just one character but haven’t thus far. Tempted to give up.
  • Finally the story begins! A man arrives, a traveller on foot all day. He’s tired and hungry and turned away from the local Inns. He’s interested me…
  • Hmm… I’m thinking this bishop may be a main character in this story
  • Madame Magloire is in a panic!
  • Ah so this stranger is John Valjean and he’s from the galley where he was sent for stealing a loaf of bread.
  • Hmm… Hugo has gone off on a tangent here about the philosophy of good and evil…
  • It’s the year 1817 and I’m a little lost… there’s mention of Napolean
  • Hugo mentions the Latin Quarter in Paris- I’m going to be staying there!
  • What a horrible fate for Fantine.
  • Poor Cosette.

And so the cycle of epiphanies and confusion continue through to the end of volume one and into volume two. Hugo really strays from the story A LOT from philosophical debate to what Napolean was up to and the situation of the war. Even though I enjoy reading about history I don’t particularly enjoy information dumping that doesn’t relate directly to the characters in the story.

I must say I did find things made a lot more sense in the second volume  and I finally had the future of Cosette and Marius to hold onto and the story felt like it then had a purpose.

Marius was quite an interesting chap, sometimes I admired him, sometimes he frustrated me and other times I thought he was a bit of a drama queen. Nevertheless, I was glad to see him and Cosette come to their senses by the end. Cosette though I warmed to her as a child I thought her a little difficult to connect with as an adult… she was portrayed as a bit foolish and dense at times.

Les Miserables, what do I say? I’m glad to have picked you up and flipped through those 1000 pages but I was even more glad when I turned the last page and filed those books away on my bookshelf!

 Overall Rating


“I really liked this”…. I think

Les Miserables can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

Les Miserables was one of the books on my TBR list of books set in France.

Top 10 Books to Read When You Travel to France


    • It was probably more like 3 months Melinda but I was desperate to finish it before I go away! If I didn’t have that as a motivator it may have taken longer. Love to hear what you think of it when you get a chance to ‘tackle’ it 🙂

  • Well done on finishing the book! It is a huge achievement. I did have some of the same issues you had but overall I am definitely glad to have read it.

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