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Re-Reading Les Misérables at My Age: I Must Be Nuts

During the summer and fall, I’ve been re-reading a lot of the novels on my shelves. It’s been fun. Re-reading Les Misérables has not been fun. I think all the radiation treatments have not only left me feeling fatigued, but they’ve disrupted my ability to concentrate on long books.

When I bought this paperback edition in the 1980s, I read the whole thing, including the longer-than-necessary descriptions, political diversions, character background, and interior monologue. I was pleased that I stuck with it then just as I was pleased when I once completed mountain climbs to 14,000 feet and hikes of 25 miles or more without needing to go to the hospital afterwards. Like most people, I was younger then.

I still like the plot, many of the descriptive turns of phrase, and the snarky wit. But when it comes down to it, trying to read this novel today is about as absurd as trying to hike the Appalachian Trail without getting in shape first with neighborhood walks and shorter hikes. I’m on page 283of 1,463. If this were the Appalachian Trail, I’d be dead by now or lying at the bottom of a steep slope waiting to hear the welcome sounds of rescue helicopters.

To use an old phrase, I think I’m going to “cry uncle” on this attempt and put the book back on the shelf where it will impress all who see it rather like a photo of me standing at the summit of Mt. Everest or K2.

As Wikipedia notes, “More than a quarter of the novel—by one count 955 of 2,783 pages—is devoted to essays that argue a moral point or display Hugo’s encyclopedic knowledge, but do not advance the plot, nor even a subplot, a method Hugo used in such other works as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Toilers of the Sea.” Yes, I suppose I could push forward and scan those sections, but the type is small (note the smaller page count on my version when compared to the original) and that seems like more trouble than it’s worth.

My attention span at present is more suited for watching Survivor or NCIS on TV or a Clancy/Patterson style novel that moves along with large print, lots of action, and is over before you know it. To use a Survivor tradition, if some of Hugo’s characters had gotten voted out of the novel at tribal council, it would be a lot easier to read now.

Sure, I feel disappointed just like any other beer-drinking couch potato who spends a ton of money to get to Mt. Everest and learns that s/he doesn’t even have the stamina to make it up to base camp.

Have any of you read this novel? If you did, how much of it did you skim through? (Asking for a friend.)

Malcolm

I’m very appreciative of the wonderful reviews from listeners who found this audiobook, enjoyed the story, and loved actress Kelley Hazen’s narration. 

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I never read it, never wanted to read it! And I certainly don’t now. I have no patience for long, meaningless (meaningless to me, that is) discourses. Nor do I care for long descriptions. We’re long past the time when the written word is all that could portray what a place looked like, and although I don’t have your excuse, I lack of patience. Actually, now that I think of it, I don’t know how I escaped reading this book. I took many English and literature classes, and once belonged to a Great Books book club. I guess I was just lucky.

    October 24, 2019
  2. You were lucky.

    October 24, 2019

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