After six months, I finally finished reading this behemoth of a book. 1,463 pages. And since reading the last lines (which I re-read at least three times before putting the book down because I didn't want it to end), I have been caught in this limbo between "what do I do with my life" and "I can read FANTASY again!!!" And since it was, of course, absolutely amazing, I have decided to shower you with a list of lessons I have learned, with a generous sprinkling of quotes throughout.
1. This book is titled Les Miserables because there is no cake.
"He noticed that there was only one shop in the street left open, and that one, a matter worthy of reflection, a pastry shop. This was a providential opportunity to eat one more apple turnover before embarking on the unknown. Gavroche stopped ... turned out his pockets, found nothing in them ... and began to cry, 'Help!' It is hard to just miss out on the ultimate cake." (p. 1071)
2. The bishop is the best character. Period.
Seriously, though, I was warned that the book got more interesting after the first 58 pages, but I actually think those were my favorite. Why? Because they're about the bishop, the kindest, most selfless character I've ever read about. Although he seems to play a minor role in the story (despite his lengthy bio), the bishop just might be the most influential character in the whole novel.
3. Even those without money can be rich.
"The poor young man ... enters God's theater free. ... He looks at humanity so much that he sees the soul, he looks at creation so much that he sees God." (p. 685)
4. Everyone is important.
"Is the underworld of civilization, because it is deeper and gloomier, less important than the upper? Do we really know the mountain when we do not know the cavern?" (p. 983)
5. In fact, everything is important. Even the sewer.
By which I mean...
6. Victor Hugo had a deep and passionate love for Paris.
Les Miserables is his love letter to the city. It is so verbose because he felt it necessary to include everything -- the people, the street names, the history, and yes, even the layout of the sewer, which he described in great detail.
7. And his editor, apparently, didn't mind.
If, in fact, he had an editor. Which I doubted more and more as I waded through this enormous beast, because why were there 50 pages written about the battle of Waterloo, when five would have sufficed? And why, might I ask, did I need to know every little detail about the robbers' lingo, argot? I did not. And I must admit that I skimmed large amounts of text in this book, which is a thing I never ever do when reading fiction.
But amidst all of the unnecessary political mumbo-jumbo (lots of meaningless French names, etc.), there was one character who agreed with me...
8. It's ok for passion to replace politics.
"M. Mabeuf's political opinion was a passionate fondness for plants, and a still greater one for books." (p. 688)
9. Victor Hugo was a writer, activist, and, perhaps, philosopher.
"The pupil dilates in the night, and at last finds day in it, even as the soul dilates in misfortune, and at last finds God in it." (p. 1397)
"'To keep silent is simple? No, it is not simple. There is a silence that lies.'" -Jean Valjean (p. 1397)
10. The moral of the story is this:
"He who does not weep does not see." (p. 1220)
11. And, also, that there is always hope.
"The book the reader has now before his eyes -- from one end to the other, in its whole and in its details, whatever the omissions, the exceptions, or the faults -- is the march from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from the false to the true, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from rottenness to life, from brutality to duty, from Hell to Heaven, from nothingness to God. Starting point: matter; goal: the soul." (p. 1242)
Have you ever read Les Miserables? Did you come away with other lessons you'd like to share? And if you haven't garnered up the courage to tackle it yet, do you plan to someday?