Les Miserables novel and movie Reviews: ‘I have brought your soul…and I give it to God’

Hi readers,

Whilst gathering the images for this post I was busy thinking about how big and packed with information this review might get. I do have a lot to get through and thought that it might be best to break it into three sections and then decided if it really needs two blog posts. I’m not even sure if I’ll get it written in one go either and with it being 10:40pm now, I guess the answer would be no, but we’ll see. This post might end up with a follow up one anyways and the reason for that is because I’ve only read part one in the novel. So, why am I bothering to write a review of it now if I’ve read that bit? Because the Penguin version is 1,200 pages long of smallish, but still very readable font. Part one is 275 pages and I was slightly worried that if I finished the novel I might have forgotten what I wanted to say about the first lot of chapters/parts! So I’m making a start now.

Lots of people know about Les Miserables (LM) and came to it through the musical production, (which I’ll get on to later) as I did through my mum wanting a dvd of it for mother’s day one year. We watched it and I fell in love with the songs and the story. I hope that most people also know that its a novel. A long, heavy tomb of one at that! I think after watching the musical and listening to the cd, I was interesting to know more about the story and so brought the novel LM whilst in my 3rd year of uni with some spare money from buying my uni books. All though, its taken me two years to get around to reading it, which sadly is what happens with most of my books because I can never find the time or the right mood for them all. However, I’m mega glad I’ve finally picked LM up!

The first time you see the novel it can be very draughting. I have the complete thing with an introduction and appendixes in one book. I’ve seen it spilt into two or three books as well. I guess some publishers decided to make it easier to read, but really I don’t think it should be in this format as that isn’t the way its meant to be read. The format of the novel is split up like this; There are 5 volumes divided into 8-15 chapters which are further divided into sub-chapters which are only a few pages in length. In the first part there are 8 chapters divided into 15, 14, 9, 3, 13, 2, 11 and 5 sub-chapters. In the original French the book is 1,900 pages long and some English editions go up to 1,500! The formatting does help make the novel easier to read as every part is clearly titled and you don’t get that lost feeling that can some times happen with long novels. Also LM is considered on the longest novels ever written. I wanted to see where abouts it falls in the list of the longest novels. Wiki counts by page number and there its the 3rd from the bottom out of 16. The word count is the best way to do this though and looking at few different websites as shown me that LM is still ranked near the bottom 3/4 place at of 15/16 books, with a word count of 530,982.

LM was written by Victor Hugo (1802-1885), who also wrote the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He was a prolific French writer, a royalist, later a social Democrat, he was exiled from France because he declared Napoleon III a traitor and went to live in the Channel Islands where wrote Les Mis. He returned to France in 1870, made a national hero because he had helped to shape Frances democracy and then died aged 83. He is a very interesting figure and achieved so much in his lifetime. Also his political and religious views can be seen in his writing and doing more research into this can help understand the works better.

LM was published in France in 1862, it was also translated into English and published in Britain that year. It has a French historical novel which spans the time period of 1815-1832. The French have always had a very interesting history and if you remove the plot and story from this novel, you would be left with a detailed account of that era. The historical content does digress a lot and often completely removes the reader from the story. It’s important and good to have a strong historical background in such novels, but LM does take it to the extreme. Saying that though I actually enjoyed reading those parts as it then give greater depth and understanding to the actions and behaviour of the characters. The front cover illustration on my edition is of a painting by Hippolyte Lecomie, Detail from Battle at the St Denis Gate, 1830. The gate was used by the Parisian Republicans as part of the barricade during the June Rebellion of 1832 and this features in the last volumes of LM. The gate is still there today.

The novel opens on the life history of Monseigneur Myriel, Bishop of Digne, 1815 and covers 70 pages. It first it seems a bit pointless to have to read this history and even the second paragraph states ‘it has no direct bearing on the tale we have to tell.’1 Actually though this isn’t true. The chapter sets up historical France and the main theme of religion. The Bishop has an important part to play as well because it is through his years of experience dealing with the poor and lost of society, that he helps the main character. The reader can see some importance in this set up, even if it isn’t clear at first. The Bishop symbolises God, but it could also be said that he represents God in this novel. Also that the Bishop becomes a role model or a father figure for the main character as well.

The main character and the novel’s focus is Jean Valjean. He is an escaped convict and the reader learns that he was imprisoned for five years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister and her children. He tried to escape from prison a few times and had time added to his sentence for that. The sub-chapter about him gives lots more information to his background, though not as deep as the Bishop. Valjean is treated like an outcast by everyone he meets and people act like he’s a murder instead of the petty thief he really is. The reader can see in his chapters how poverty and society has shaped his character and why he ends up acting like he does. Valjean is also an intelligent man and has had some education whilst in jail. When he steals the Bishop’s silver it reflects the stealing of the bread. He doesn’t want to do it but feels that society has left him with no choice. He only wants the needs to survive, but knows he can’t ask anyone for help. However, he finds compassion in the Bishop, who allows him to take the silver, but only on this promise; ‘use the money to make yourself an honest man,’ for ‘I have brought your soul….and I give it to God.’2 and surprisingly, Valjean does do that.

Fantine is the next main character to appear, though she doesn’t last very long. Once again there’s a lot about her background and her character is well grounded. She’s a factory worker, who falls in love for a student, who then abandons her not knowing they have a child together. She has to go and look for work and whilst moving from town to town, finds an inn keeper and his wife who agree to take care of her child. Though really they are just using her to get money and ill treat her child. Fantine gets a place in one of Valjean’s- now the mayor a town- factories. One of the rules is that the women have to stay pure and when Fantine is accused for ‘sleeping around’ to earn money for her child, she is dismissed. We see her fall from grace then, as she has nothing and must sell off her things and live on the street. Desperate for money she sales her hair and teeth before becoming a lady of the night. She ends up being rescued by Valjean after being attacked on the street. He cares for her and agrees to take care of her child. I’ve always liked the character of Fantine and the novel really puts across what the musical sometimes can’t. Though she is only trying to do the right thing, she ends up becoming an outcast because of a situation she can’t explain and when she finally gets help it comes too late. Her character also reflects Valjean’s as they both end up shoved out of society and poverty changes their views on the world. She also helps Valjean escape prison once more and free her child from ill-treatment. I do get why she has to die too and its because she is giving her life up for Valjean and her daughter. I couldn’t see her become a part of their lives either, because her symbolism wouldn’t work any more.

There are a lot of other characters in LM, but only one more I want to talk about here and that’s Javert. He’s the antagonist and his only goal is to see Valjean back in prison. He has an interesting character description; ‘Javert unsmiling was a bulldog; when he laughed he was a tiger.’3 He was also born in prison and saw himself an outsider to society because of that,believing he only had two options to become an outlaw or to become the law. The other characters fear him and he sympathises with none of them. When he rediscovers Valjean he can’t let it go, though he can see how much the man has changed. Javert could symbolise a number of things; from a man who’s pulled himself up through poverty, to being the symbol of the french authorities or perhaps the Devil to balance out the Bishop being God. He doesn’t change throughout the novel until the final chapter about him.

Another theme of the novel is identity, because Valjean changes so he can start a new life being good, but then he struggles to completely let go of being Valjean and at different points in the novel claims himself to still be that man. Fantine too losing her identity because she ends up falling into such poverty that she losses herself. Her daughter is then given a new identity when she is rescued. Javert knows his identity right up until his exist from the novel because it is at that point he suddenly can’t find himself any more as his only goal in life is now gone.

And that brings us the end of the first part. There’s a lot more to say about the novel, but I think I will save it for another time now as I’ve written so much already and I’ve still got a few more things to add. My overall impression of the novel is that I am really enjoying reading it and though it’s length is challenging, the actual content is easy to read and understand- well beside from the French history!- The characters are very well written and are interesting. They can be engaged with too and their stories symbolism with. There are a lot of themes and symbolism, but this just adds to the greater whole of the novel. As for recommended reading? I’d advise most people to give it ago. It can be brought free on kindle and with the movie now out it seems a good time to learn more about the characters and the plot.

The musical theatre production (a note)

I’ve only seen one version of the LM musical and that has been the one above. I’d love to go and see it live in London (or if that cast ever came to my city). Of course there’s lots of depend about which is the best musical version and I guess that depends on your own liking of the singers/actors. It was adapted from the novel in 1980 and appeared on the French stage. It came to Britain in 1985 after some more changes. Unlike most stage plays and musicals, you feel more at a gig when watching LM as there is hardly any acting taking place. Though some of the more dramatic scenes are played out. However, like the novel you get swept up in all the action, emotion and story going on. In some ways the musical does do the book’s message justice and I know like a movie, things have to be left out, but I felt that more religion symbolism and mentioning could have been put in.

The Movie

Elephant

Lastly, I wanted to write about the elephant statue which appears in the movie and also later on in the book. I wanted to know more about it because I was unsure if Hugo or the scriptwriter(s) had just come up with it. But no, the Elephant of the Bastille as it was know stood from 1813-1846 and on the site of the Bastille. (Which was a fortress, then a prison and was destroyed in the French Revolution, 1789) The statue was a full scale model made out of plaster over a wooden frame and it was then going to be made into a bronze, but that was never achieved.

Hugo describes it in Les Mis very negatively and shows the disrepair the statue had fallen into before it was removed. (QUOTE!) He also uses it as a house/den/safe place for Gavroche the street urchin.

I was impressed with them showing the elephant in the film because it came to symbolises a number of things for me Firstly, the power and the strength of the people in the June Rebellion as they knew what they wanted and were willing to fight. Secondly, that France was in a disrepaired state after the Revoluation. Thirdly, the lost hopes of the France people, because they couldn’t achieve what they dreamed of. Fouthly, Napoleon 1’s victories and military prowess, which the elephant was orginally meant to represent.

This is the statue they used in the movie.

Images from;

http://www.booksplease.org/tag/les-miserables/

http://athinkersblog.com/2011/08/20/les-miserables-and-america-today-a-review-of-the-25th-anniversary-concert/

http://filminsider.blog.de/2012/09/24/les-miserables-neues-poster-musical-drama-hugh-jackman-anne-hathaway-russell-crowe-14871556/

http://bytesdaily.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/les-mis-update-and-elephant.html

Qutoes from;

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (Penguin Group, London, 1982)

1. pg: 19.

2. pg: 111.

3. pg: 165.

Volunteering with the Factory Youth Zone

Hey, I thought I’d switch from writing my Les Mis post to doing this one because I can get it out faster. Also because this is becoming important to me as well.

I started doing voluntry work at my nearest youth centre at the end of Nov/beginning of Dec. I saw a banner calling for volunteers on the side of the building and thought it might be a good opportunity for me. Not only to break up my struggle to find a job-which is still going down hill-but also for me to learn some new skills and maybe pass on my love for books and writing. Well, that hasn’t happened it! But the skills have and there’ll be more on that later. First though what really drew me to the The Factory and volunteering? The answer lays in the fact that I didn’t fancy any more time at the Charity shop. Yeah, I know I was doing a good thing there and I was in a comfit zone with it, but I just got bored of doing the same things and tried of the people, who could sometimes be unfriendly. I wanted a complete change of environment and to be doing something new that would actually make me want to do it. I’ve always been good with kids and thought that it would be another great thing on my CV.

That saying; you won’t know until you try, comes into mind. I guess because I was so unsure when I applied and went for an interview that I was the kind of person they were looking for. Most people they take on my age are either doing a related course and need the experience or have completed the course and either have a paid job or are gaining more experience. So it was odd I guess for someone coming out of a masters to want to volunteer at a job they had no qualifications or experience doing. I think it was my skills that I could bring to the centre though and my eagerness to try my hand at something different that saw me through. I did well in the training too and manged to take everything on board. There was a lot about the law and safe guarding children, as well as looking for signs of neglect etc. There was other stuff like how to deal with different and difficult situations that can happen. I took it all in and found it an easy day. I then choice to do Mondays and Tuesdays afternoons and work with the 8-12 year olds coming after school.

The factory itself has only been open a year or two now. It’s purpose is a designed space for all young people aged 8-21 to have fun, gain new skills, make new friends and be able to talk to someone about any issues. The building is divided into a number of areas across two floors and has; a gym, a rec hall, a craft area, a music room, a dancing/performing arts space, a climbing wall, a football field, a sports hall with things like netball, trampolining and other indoor sports and cafe/chill out area. They run different time slots for age groups as well so that people can make the best use of the time and activities on offer. There’s normally so many different activities running too, mostly these are sports or music, but the arts and crafts have a number of things running and there is also tables to play boardgames on.

My first afternoon though was a little scary, though nothing bad as the first day at school. I was unsure what to do or who to speak too, so it took me a few to speak to a guy in a blue t-shirt about what I should do. I was then meet by the senior/leader youth worker and I got put on the crafts table. I love getting creative and making stuff. Though I’ve to admit that since starting I’ve not done as much sewing in my life! That day does seem a blur now and I can remember what it was we were making. It changes every day or every week, though normally it has to do with sewing and creating things. I get a chance to make my own thing and let my creativity out, but mostly I focus on helping the kids and passing on my skills to them. Which is what it should always be about.

I’m still helping out on the craft table now and I’m pleased to say that I’ve taught a few kids to sew and helped many other things create things. So far I’ve also helped to make a xmas banner and xmas gifts. I’ve made these items for my self; a xmas hat, a xmas socking, a xmas card, a badge for my jacket and a poster about all the things I want to do this year. I’m currently helped two boys make superhero costumes for their secret club and I’ve been helping other kids with similar projects to the things I’ve made. I’ve also played a few games of badminton, table tennis and boardgames. I’ve gained a number of skills, like in teaching and leadership and looking after kids and being more in control and patient. Things that only come when in the world of work. These skills are pretty transferable to other things though and I’m hoping that they will aid me.

So, I am really loving my time at the Factory. I need to think about setting up a writing club though and also seeing if there’s a chance they can help me get into paid work as that would be much better for me. All my to do list and now I can get back to the Les Mis review too!

You can check out the Factory here;

http://www.thefactoryyz.org/

The Legend of Drizzt Book 1: Homeland Review; This is the Underdark

I’ve had a craving for a little while to read a fantasy novel. Maybe playing Dungeons and Dragons had reawakened my fantasy side and I wanted to indulge in it more. Only I didn’t want to read LOTR again or Warhammer books, I wanted something slightly different but just as good. My search was a little in vain, so I give up and re-read The Hobbit in prep for going to see the movie. But I wasn’t satisfied afterwards and wanted more….but not Tolkien or Prattchet. My boyfriend suggested a new author; R A Salvatore and has it turned out he was just what I was looking for because he writers fantasy novels set in the DD world.

Though he has written a number of other books and series, it’s to the character he’s most famous for that has been my introduction to Salvatore and DD novels; Drizzt Do’Urden.

Drizzt, a drow (dark elf) is born into Menzoberranzan; an underground matriarchal world of betrayal, war, magic and monsters. Almost scarified at birth, but saved due to his older brother’s death, Drizzt must learn the way of Loth, the Spider Queen and also the skills of a warrior. However, he is no normal drow and keeps hold of his humanity, which all drow loose as they are taught the ways of Loth and to despise the world above. Though he is part of a society which would be considered evil to the above world, Drizzt stands out by his questions on killing and drow history. Somehow though his words are overlooked by other drow and he is able to keep his feelings hidden.

The plot of the story is all about Drizzt growing up and coming to realise that everything he knows is possibly wrong and he no longer wants to be a part of it. Through events he can be seen to arise to challenges and fully develop as a character. In a way the reader grows with him. We are with him in the moments before his birth when the plot twists are being set up and then as he grows up and becomes an adult. There is a lot of fighting in the plot, but it is kept fresh by the different monsters and different reasons. We also get to see Drizzt improve his fighting skills and he becomes very impressive with his swords. I was gripped straight a way into the plot and the setting, finding the 3rd person narrative working well and giving the reader an eye over anything. The cuts to different characters and their plotting, helped move the story along and created a much bigger picture throughout the novel.

The other characters are just as intriguing as Drizzt. There are his sisters and brother fitting the bill as fighting siblings and trying to outdo each other in order to impress their mother. She is a great character being all power hungry and desperate to improve her family’s status in Menzoberranzan. Zak, the master swords man, who trains Drizzt his deeper connects to him than first seems, but during the cuts to his thoughts, the reader can see how similar in nature the two of them are. The antagonists are other drow, who use magic, which is a nice contrast to the use of weapons, but they are just as power hungry as Drizzt’s mother and want the same thing. Lastly, there is Guenhwyvar, who I liked straight a way, he is a magic panther and Drizzt’s only friend. The similarities can be seen in their fighting styles and they complement each other well too. It was nice to have an animal companion for a change!

I really like Salvatore’s writing style, because it is fast pace, gripping and full of information that just sinks into your head. You learn a lot about drow society, but you don’t realize it from the way it is written. The vocabulary is a bit simple in some places, but this just helps the speed of the story telling. Like the Warhammer books, Salvatore makes his fantasy writing as simplified as possible, leaving out long descriptions of settings, battles and other events. This allows the reader to imagine more things and that is something I like doing. Also you don’t want to be bogged down by needless details when reading a world that many would be familiar through playing the game. Which is what I found having played the DD drow trilogy, because that is set in the same area. It’s the little details and drops of humour that add to the greatness of this novel. It is very easy to read over these or not take them fully in because of how they are placed within the story. However, I didn’t find myself flicking back to re-read, because I was just able to take the whole thing in. The dialogue of the characters is great and a lot of raw emotions come through the words. Which is great because the reader should always be able to see the emotion that way and not through the writer stating it. There was nothing heavily accented or old fashioned and the use of the drow language wasn’t over used. It really is an easy book to read and I shall be picking up the second on soon.

Ps. As an added note, I thought I’d say that the character of Drizzt’s reminded me of Malus Darkblade by Dan Abnett and Mike Lee, set in the Warhammer world. Malus is also a dark elf who though evil must fight things more evil then himself. I did think that this was interesting and though it has been awhile since I read him, the books have enough differences between them.

Write! Write!

It’s been ages since I last posted and there is many reasons why. Firstly, as just shown once again I’ve been having some trouble with my Internet, maybe its the bad weather or the fact that my broadband just can’t support the number of wifi connects currently being used in my house. Whatever the case, it really hasn’t helped and I’ve not been on line much. (A good thing maybe!) I’ve been really ill too and have spend sometime in hospital over the last 2/3 months. No point moaning about it though, getting ill happens to us all and I’m thankful that I’m not as seriously ill as some people are out there. I’ve still been fighting my writer’s block as well, but hopefully that’s becoming a distant memory now, though I still haven’t got started on my new novel as I said for my new year’s resolution! But soon, once I get the ideas flowing again. I guess being involved in a new relationship has also been a bit distracting…but he’s still been getting things done and so should I’ve been! So, I can’t blame anything on that….I guess playing games on line hasn’t helped and the job hunting has really slowed down. I’ve been trying to pick it up though….but I guess it’s like sticking feathers back into a dead duck. Things are just not going my way there and it’s getting to me. Luckily, I still have the support and love of my family and friends, which does make things easier to deal with. My hopes for the new year are to do lots of writing, reading, reviewing, get better, build stronger relationships with people and find a job.

 

Seeing this year as a kind of gap year has helped. I thought it would give me the chance to experience a bit more of outside life that can’t always be found at uni. However, I wasn’t ready to deal with the cruel and crushing world sitting on the doorstep and things have been a lot harder then I first thought. Saying that I am happy at the minute. I’ve a lot in my life right now and the future is still ahead of me. I’m just having problems finding my feet on the right pathway, but since the summer, I’ve learnt a lot more about myself. For example; the darker side of relationships, how trying is important but knowing when to give up even more so, that there’ll always be help and hope when it’s asked for and that officially giving up on something can sometimes mean finding it again in a different light. Finding yourself is all part of a gap year right? I’m just doing it without the travelling or the work experience….currently.

 

Actually, this quote from the manga/anime Vampire Knight has got me through the hardest times of last year.

Vampire-Knight-vampire-knight-22659024-1600-1200[1]

 

 

Since writing the review of Rowling’s new book, I’ve not actually finished reading another. I can’t read when I am ill and the escapism that I normally find in reading hasn’t been a big draw to me of late. I think I did start reading something else afterwards, but I can’t remember it and didn’t finish it. I read The Hobbit by Tolkien then in time for the movie, so I might write something about that too. The book I am reading now is worth writing a review on, so I shall make that my next post. Hopefully, I can get back into reading now I’m not as ill. I got a kindle for Christmas, so I have even more books to read and I half fancy writing a review about that. Might be interesting to do. I still have a stack of books to get through though!

 

I also started working as a volunteer at a youth centre. I can’t remember saying that before as I’d just started in late November. That could do with a post of it’s own though. So that’ll be number 4 now. Well, at least I’ll have a lot to write about this month now and hopefully it’ll give me something to focus on and give my brain the excise that it’s missed writing all those essays….never thought I’d miss that!

 

 

Image from: www. fanpop.com