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Thread: I can't stand Hugo's writing style

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    Registered User Chilly's Avatar
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    I can't stand Hugo's writing style

    I'm a huge fan of the musical Les Miserables. I love the music, the story, the characters, and because the movie version is coming out soon, I decided to read the book. I wish I hadn't. When he's writing events that are part of the plot-line, it's interesting, exciting and I'm enjoying it. But he goes on these massive rants about stuff that is both very irrelevant and uninteresting.

    He spends fourteen chapters on the bishop (in my mind, seven would have been quite enough), he spends fifty pages describing the battle of Waterloo (this is especially irritating because he suddenly throws it in when up until then the reader has no reason whatsoever to believe its connected and really wants nothing more than to go on with the story. Although its not at the climax, its very anti-climactic. He does this in other places too), and spends a long while explaining the history of French nun organizations when really I don't care at all. I could go on, but I know a lot of you have already read the book and know what I'm talking about. I have simply run out of patience with him. If a hundred pages were cut out of the book, I would would say its great, but otherwise, I'm faced with my only option: saying the book isn't great. In fact, I don't think the book is great at all.

    Please understand, I'm not trying to start an argument, but really I'm doing two things. 1) Is it really worth reading Les Miserables? Should I force myself to endure the off-topic rants that render me so impatient? 2) How would you react if I suggested that Victor Hugo is not a good author? Is it fair to say someone's not a good author just because they go on off-topic rants? Is it fair for someone like me to say that that man--that man who is so respected in the literature world--is overrated?

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    Absinthe minded bIGwIRE's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chilly View Post
    1) Is it really worth reading Les Miserables? Should I force myself to endure the off-topic rants that render me so impatient?
    I know I'm not alone in saying that I loved every bit of Les Mis. However, to fully appreciate the novel, you have to enjoy learning and reading about history.

    Should you read something that you don't enjoy? Maybe, because even a forced march will get you somewhere.

    If you really hate it, but love the plot and story line? I have a great aversion to suggesting an abridged version, but it may be more enjoyable for you.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chilly View Post
    2) How would you react if I suggested that Victor Hugo is not a good author? Is it fair to say someone's not a good author just because they go on off-topic rants? Is it fair for someone like me to say that that man--that man who is so respected in the literature world--is overrated?
    Have you read his other work? Hunchback of Notre Dame, or Toilers of the Sea? The Last Day of a Condemned Man had a big impact of Dostoevsky, Camus, and Dickens, among other literary giants.

    To say someone isn't a good author because you don't like his novel? It isn't wrong if you are on the same level... which you, and I, are far from. To say "I didn't like it" and "He is a bad writer" are two very different things.

    Keep in mind, also, that Hugo had a huge impact on the polotics of his day, both for freedom of speech and freedom of government. He was also an accomplished artist.

    If you didn't like Les Mis, fine. I would try his other stuff before I formed an opinion, but its really your personal taste, and choice.

    To say he is overated? You're wrong.

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Hugo is a far better poet than he is a novelist, but he's a pretty good novelist too.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

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    Maybe try The Huncheback of Notre Dame. It has long winded parts, but I don't think it's as bad as Les Mis (I say think because I've yet to read the latter).

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    Clinging to Douvres rocks Gilliatt Gurgle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mutatis-Mutandis View Post
    Maybe try The Huncheback of Notre Dame. It has long winded parts, but I don't think it's as bad as Les Mis (I say think because I've yet to read the latter).
    Agreed^ or try Toilers of the Sea, in either case Hugo doesn't wander off nearly as far as he does in Les Miserables.
    In the case of Hunchback, Hugo's tangential diatribes expound on architecture and art which for me, was perhaps more interesting than the main theme of the story.
    "Mongo only pawn in game of life" - Mongo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKRma7PDW10

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    Also, in Hunchback, it's easy to identify his tangents since, as Gilliat said, they mostly deal with art and architecture, so it's pretty easy to skip them without worrying if you miss something in the plot. They are quite brilliant examples of descriptive writing, though. Possibly the best I've read. The man could paint a picture with words, that's for sure.

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    String Dancer Shea's Avatar
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    Okay, I told myself I was going to bed, but I saw this thread and couldn't resist...

    I happen to LOVE Les Mis; both the book and musical (and yes, I read the book first). I completely get where you are coming from Chilly. But I'm the sort of person who loves all the little mundane details. I hate that most rental DVD's don't have all the fun bonus stuff you get if you buy the movie. My hubby has no use for that sort of thing. Just give him the plot, throw in some action and he's a happy camper. I would love to learn French one day simply for the pleasure of reading Les Mis in the original language.

    If don't want to try abridged, and you really want to get the "full" experience of the Les Mis read, maybe it would help to read an analysis of the chapters on Sparknotes as you go along? Sometimes they explain the societal themes in the author's day so that you can put yourself in the mindset of the author's original readers.

    As a side note - I accidentally bought an abridged copy of Toilers of the Sea the first time I picked it up. As I was going along, I felt like I was missing stuff. It didn't reflect the same Victor Hugo I'd read in Les Mis. I finally figured out it was abridged when I was staring at the cover art. The publisher had printed "Abridged Version" in white letters right across where the art had a white spray of ocean water. I totally missed it for days.
    Last edited by Shea; 07-26-2012 at 01:06 AM. Reason: spelling
    HwŠt! We Gar-Dena in geardagum,/Ůeodcuninga ■rum gefrunon,/hu ­a Š■elingas ellen fremedon!
    Oft Scyld Scefing scea■ena ■reatum,/ monegum mŠg■um, meodosetla ofteah,/ egsode eorlas, sy­­an Šrest wear­/ feasceaft funden; he ■Šs frofre gebad,/ weox under wolcnum, weor­myndum ■ah,/ o­■Št him Šghwylc ■ara ymbsittendra/ofer hronrade hyran scolde,/gomban gyldan. ŮŠt wŠs god cyning!

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    I'm also quite anti-abridged versions. Of I'm going to skip stuff, I'd at the least like to know what I'm skipping by skimming over it. I can't stand not knowing what's been taken out.

    I like Shea's tip about Sparknotes, because I use that tip quite often if I'm reading something long or difficult. Sparknotes if great for looking up chapter summaries after you've read said chapter. Heck, I just used this for a couple Henry James novellas, not because they were difficult, but because I kept zoning out because they were so damn boring.

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Wow, only 100 pages less... I think that novel could do with some more cutting to be ideal.

    slaps herself

    However, if you come with the idea that you are going to sit down and read a novel like any other (even if it is 1500 pages, that has been done before), you are in for a shock. Obviously, you've had that shock.

    The musical and the films may be good, but they do not really reflect the novel (although they can be absolute gems like the 2001 mini-series), they only capture the characters (or a part of them; some properly, some rather shoddily).

    Why do I say something weird like that?

    Hugo had his own image of life, society and history. A philosophy in fact. With that view, he wrote novels, like Les MisÚrables, like The Last Day of a condemned Man (or however its title has been translated), The Hunchback. I have only read Les MisÚrables and The Hunchback because Hugo takes a lot of effort in French, because of his digressions.
    However, as he is not writing about someone, but something, he does not stick to his storyline, because what we perceive as the storyline is in fact not the same as what he perceived as his storyline. His storyline is what he wants to tell us about what lie is like or something, our storyline is what ean Valjean is ging through. You see, that is not compatible.

    On top of that he tended to edit, edit, edit and edit some more, so that he moved chapters or books, added or deleted things (whole books even) and changed bits so that everyting is not always a very well-constructed whole. In terms of storyline, that is.

    The reason why Hugo starts off with the bishop is not because he wants to digress before getting to the point, it is because he wants to make clear that the bishop is one of the most important characters in the novel. Indeed, he appears in the beginning and SPOILER END will end the novel as the angel who comes to get Jean Valean from his death bed SPOILER END OVER. He is the one who turns ean Valjean's life around in one sentence, yet fades into the oblivion he came in, as all misÚrables but is a much much better person than the rich he served. With his mere aura of godliness, he even repells a 'hard' criminal like Jean Valean when the latter wants to kill him. For an audience that believed that criminals were criminals from in their cot, that's very moving.

    Hugo writes not about Jean Valjean. Jean Valean and his story are nothing, as the end of it evokes. His name is not even special. Hugo writes about all those who are living in oblivion.
    In that, I udnerstand certainly the musical, but also necessarily most films and mini-series, vastly misrepresent the work because you can't reproduce te fragmentary nature of the novel and the vast 'universe' of it in a film. It would just look like a shambles.

    But maybe if you considered it not as a novel, but as a work of thought, you'd lose some frustration.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

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    Registered User Chilly's Avatar
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    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them, and after thinking about them, I've changed my mind. Hugo is not a bad author (and although I still don't like the tangents he goes off on, maybe I need more patience). I'm going to go back and keep reading it. I'll try using sparknotes, and kiki, I'll remember what you said about it being a work of thought. I like that. It makes me imagine him standing up and expressing all these thoughts that he has been waiting to release and that I'm just nearby listening to him. As to what you said about the bishop, it makes me realize that there must be decent reasons for his other tangents as well, and that maybe I should dig into reviews and commentaries to try and understand the whole thing better.

    As for abridged versions--I don't want to go down that route because I feel like that's cheating the book, and it could skip more than I want (at least in theory). And I'm too cheap to go out and find myself another copy

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    Sailing the Void crusoe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chilly View Post
    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them, and after thinking about them, I've changed my mind. Hugo is not a bad author (and although I still don't like the tangents he goes off on, maybe I need more patience). I'm going to go back and keep reading it. I'll try using sparknotes, and kiki, I'll remember what you said about it being a work of thought. I like that. It makes me imagine him standing up and expressing all these thoughts that he has been waiting to release and that I'm just nearby listening to him. As to what you said about the bishop, it makes me realize that there must be decent reasons for his other tangents as well, and that maybe I should dig into reviews and commentaries to try and understand the whole thing better.

    As for abridged versions--I don't want to go down that route because I feel like that's cheating the book, and it could skip more than I want (at least in theory). And I'm too cheap to go out and find myself another copy
    For what it's worth...go with your gut-feeling. "Don't visit an exhibition
    'til you like the pictures" If an Author doesn't do it for you, skip it.
    Don't feel bad about it. I personally think, Hugo is boring and I don't care that
    all the church-bells in France rang when he died. So what ? Hang me ?
    By the way, he himself didn't like Balzac. Zola thought, Balzac was a pompous
    .......(you fill in the word) You see, even the great writers are just human.
    Don't force yourself and don't freeze in awe of "famous names".
    Buy the Ticket, take the Ride...

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    Absinthe minded bIGwIRE's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by crusoe View Post
    For what it's worth...go with your gut-feeling. "Don't visit an exhibition
    'til you like the pictures" If an Author doesn't do it for you, skip it.
    Don't feel bad about it. I personally think, Hugo is boring and I don't care that
    all the church-bells in France rang when he died. So what ? Hang me ?
    By the way, he himself didn't like Balzac. Zola thought, Balzac was a pompous
    .......(you fill in the word) You see, even the great writers are just human.
    Don't force yourself and don't freeze in awe of "famous names".
    Don't give up too soon, though. A few times I have forced my way through 200-300 agonizing pages to find some of the best literature. I can be worth the "sacrifice," if you want to call it that.

    Also, with a nod to Crusoe's exhibition illustration,when exploring new authors (new to me) I always try to find some short stories, or at least shorter works, if available, and read those first. That way you won't be stuck in a blind commitment, and end up regretting a few weeks of reading a novel you don't like.

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    Actually I love the diversions, the picture he paints of Waterloo was one of my favorite pieces of the novel. I like writers who get distracted, it shows that they don't take their main plots too seriously, and it is healthy to be fascinated with the world.

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    Sailing the Void crusoe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bIGwIRE View Post
    I always try to find some short stories, or at least shorter works, if available, and read those first. That way you won't be stuck in a blind commitment, and end up regretting a few weeks of reading a novel you don't like.



    You're absolutly right.
    Last edited by crusoe; 07-26-2012 at 09:10 AM.
    Buy the Ticket, take the Ride...

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chilly View Post
    I'm a huge fan of the musical Les Miserables. I love the music, the story, the characters, and because the movie version is coming out soon, I decided to read the book. I wish I hadn't. When he's writing events that are part of the plot-line, it's interesting, exciting and I'm enjoying it. But he goes on these massive rants about stuff that is both very irrelevant and uninteresting.

    He spends fourteen chapters on the bishop (in my mind, seven would have been quite enough), he spends fifty pages describing the battle of Waterloo (this is especially irritating because he suddenly throws it in when up until then the reader has no reason whatsoever to believe its connected and really wants nothing more than to go on with the story. Although its not at the climax, its very anti-climactic. He does this in other places too), and spends a long while explaining the history of French nun organizations when really I don't care at all. I could go on, but I know a lot of you have already read the book and know what I'm talking about. I have simply run out of patience with him. If a hundred pages were cut out of the book, I would would say its great, but otherwise, I'm faced with my only option: saying the book isn't great. In fact, I don't think the book is great at all.

    Please understand, I'm not trying to start an argument, but really I'm doing two things. 1) Is it really worth reading Les Miserables? Should I force myself to endure the off-topic rants that render me so impatient? 2) How would you react if I suggested that Victor Hugo is not a good author? Is it fair to say someone's not a good author just because they go on off-topic rants? Is it fair for someone like me to say that that man--that man who is so respected in the literature world--is overrated?
    Ha! Let me warn you, if you're still reading and haven't reached that part yet, that Hugo stops at a real cliffhanger moment and then devotes an entire chapter to an essay on the Paris sewer system! I just skipped the whole chapter.

    I don't remember the Waterloo part, but I can't agree with you about the bishop chapters. I just adore that hoplessly altruistic bishop. He's one of my all time favourite literary characters.

    As for your questions, in my opinion Les Mis is a little overrated, but it's still well worth finishing the book (with a little skipping and skimming over, perhaps).
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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