Hearing the People Sing

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I saw Les Misérables on Broadway on Saturday. It was my favorite play growing up and I hadn’t seen it in about ten years. I’m happy to report it’s still amazing (in case you were wondering).

I call myself a bibliophile, but the truth is I’m a story-o-phile (is there a word for that?). I love well-told stories in all forms—books, TV shows, movies, plays, songs, you name it. And Les Mis is such an amazing story—beautiful themes, a character-driven plot, with singing to boot!

I love this story. I want to insert myself inside of it. I want to get inside Javert’s head, I want to fight at the barricade, I want to fall in love with Marius, I want to be Eponine.

(Side note: What does it say about me that I identify much more with the girl who gets rejected and dies over the one who falls in love and lives happily ever after? Maybe it’s because I find people down on their luck much more interesting than happy people. It’s like Julian Fellowes said: “Nothing is harder to dramatise than happiness.”)

However—however—I tried to read the book several years ago. And I couldn’t get through it. It’s the same with a lot of those really verbose novels of yore (or maybe it’s the lack of singing—I do love the singing). I made it about a quarter of the way through Anna Karenina (it actually gave me one of my favorite beautiful sentences) but ended up ditching it for something snappier. I only made through any Charles Dickens because I had to write papers about it.

Has anyone read Les Mis and really enjoyed it? Should I give it another chance?

 

5 thoughts on “Hearing the People Sing

  1. I highly recommend that you try the novel again! I haven’t finished yet — I’m stalled in the middle of the Waterloo chapters at present — but my involvement with Internet fandom for the story has made me familiar with a lot of quotes from later on, and gave me a deeper understanding of the characters than the musical has space for.

    Don’t be afraid to skip around! A good rule for your first read through is to skip anything that starts with “first, a bit of history…” or similar language. Heck, skip the bishop’s chapters entirely; Jean Valjean doesn’t first appear until like forty pages in, depending on your translation.

    Speaking of translation, you have a lot of choices, and not all of them are “Dickensian” in their language. The Julie Rose actually gets a lot of (occasionally deserved) flack among a lot of fans for its more modern language. Just don’t read the Denny; it’s universally regarded to be terrible and people in the book fandom like to laugh at it.

    The book also has a lot more material on Les Amis, the students Enjolras leads on the barricade. Their tragedy is even more intense when you know, for example, that Joly is a hypochondriac, that Prouvaire is a poet, that Bossuet has bad luck and overwhelming joy, that Bahorel exists and is totally awesome, that Enjolras truly does care about his friends, and that Grantaire “loved, admired, and venerated” Enjolras enough to die beside him despite not believing in much of anything. You’ll fall in love with more than Marius in those chapters, and you’ll learn to love Cosette, because she is hope and love and light itself.

    It’s an epic in the oldest sense of the word, to be honest, and totally worth the time.

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    1. For a second I considered reading it in its native French so I don’t miss anything but immediately realized that will make it that much more difficult–my French is rusty. Thanks so much for the recommendations on the different translations, I’ve always been fascinated at how translators work–how do you retain the original tone and prose of a novel through translation? It must take so much practice and talent.

      I’d love to know more about the students–they’re not very distinctive within the play, with the exception of Marius and Enjolras, of course. I’ll post a review when I’ve finished!

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  2. The best part of the book Les Mis is definitely the middle/end, so yes I would give it another shot. Beware the 50 pages on the battle of Waterloo and the long section on the sewers, but the Marius/Cosette parts and the barricade boys are the best bits in the book for sure.

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