A huge, humongous reading marathon has come to an end. There are hardly enough words and sentences to clearly delineate my impressions. It is the book that can be defined with virtually every literary adjective from the word bank. The book made me cry, made me feel, made me happy, made me euphoric, ecstatic, made me mad, and befuddled me on a number of occasions.
This mammoth book is a political, religious, and social stand, historical fiction, a compendium of lectures, Greek tragedy, Hugo’s commentaries, and an interesting story of rebirth and compassion, self-discovery, and love. Hugo is using a very unusual narrative voice. On one hand, it is a traditional third-person narrator whose story of Jean Valjean, Cosette, and Marius touches the hearts and minds of many readers. On the other hand, it is the voice of a political and historical commentator who often takes forays into the fields of philosophy, history, and even linguistics. It is also the voice of an editor who comments the intents and motives of his main characters. In general, the book is an eclectic and weird combination of a heart-breakingly beautiful story, implacable political and social opinion, and populism.
The spiritual debate is one of the strongest in the novel, and one can see how Hugo is torn between the two parental influences: a devote, nearly mystical Catholic mother and a pragmatic, atheistic father. Of course, he had to placate his reading audience, but one can feel quite unmistakably how behind the curtain of religion, Hugo in fact is relying on kindness and love as universal concepts and NOT religious ones exclusively. Religious values are turned into universal humanistic values, and maybe this is also a part of the long-standing clout of this novel.
The other greatest achievement of this novel is than despite the number of revolutionary battle scenes in the book, the main and most palpitating scenes take place in hearts of its main characters: moral emotional struggles of Jean Valjean and even Javert are on par with Dostoevsky’s passages.
On a side note, Hugo is a master of suspense: there are multiple scenes that are executed and written with the breathtaking precision that makes Hollywood writers envious and keeps readers on the edge of their reading seats. Hugo is also in total and perfect control of the main plotline with not a single character left forgotten, in oblivion, or returned out of nowhere.
As a personal discovery, I believe the novel is also a tragedy a la Grecque: a limited number of people can not escape Fate and meet each other again and again in new circumstances and sometimes under new names. Javert even has his own hamartia (a personal flaw) – Criminal Law is the only guidance book – that eventually, like in any Greek tragedy, leads to his demise, literally in his case.
Overall, I immensely enjoyed the novel and Hugo’s ability to appeal to his readers’ hearts and minds even many years after his death. It equally appeals to history buffs, social reformists, thinkers, intellectual elitists, and romantics who enjoy good story-telling.