Napoleon had been impeached before the Infinite, and his fall was decreed. He annoyed God.
~ Victor Hugo
I’ve been reading Les Misérables, which is why I haven’t posted any book reviews recently and probably won’t post any for at least another three or four years. To say Lez Miz is a long novel is a staggering understatement. The book weighs about as much as all of my other books combined, with a couple of elephants thrown in for good measure.
Having previously read an abridged edition, I’m enjoying the full version of Less Misery very much. I’m also beginning to understand why so many editions are abridged. At the moment, the gripping tale of Jean Valjean has been interrupted by about nineteen chapters describing the battle of Waterloo, which has (if I remember correctly) only the slightest bearing upon one of many supporting characters in the novel. These Waterloo chapters are mostly an excuse for Hugo to ramble about Napoleon, whom he seems to admire.
I could hardly care less about Napoleon. I want to read about Jean Valjean, dash it!
There’s even a whole chapter praising a French officer for swearing when asked to surrender. (I swear I’m not making this up.) Victor Hugo apparently decided a filthy swearword with no relevance to the main story was important enough to merit an entire freaking chapter of the novel.
However, to be fair, even these pointless Waterloo chapters have a few literary gems sparkling here and there. My favorite of these can be found above: Napoleon, that brilliant tactician and self-assured leader of men, stumbled and fell because, Hugo informs us, “He annoyed God.”
This line reduces a colossus of world history—Napoleon, whose ambition, pride and courage knew no limits—to an annoyance. It’s a matter of perspective. God in his infinite greatness looked upon mighty Napoleon and saw a fly. Waterloo, which Hugo calls not merely a battle but “the changing face of the universe,” became God’s flyswatter.
“He annoyed God.” I love this line. It thrills my geeky soul.
I love Les Mis. Used to be my favourite book of all time. I agree about the “pointless chapters” and history lessons Hugo inserts – they do distract from the story – but I can’t help but revel in those literary gems.
I’m enjoying Lez Miz, and Hugo’s stylistic gems are wonderful. At the same time, I think the unnecessary chapters are awfully cumbersome. Hugo could have used a stricter editor.