It’s true, books are better than movies. If you dispute this, then slap yourself. I say, again, books are better than movies. That’s why, when last year’s Les Misérables was theatrically released, I said to myself: “Don’t do it. Now is the time. Read the book.” So I did. Well, I started it anyway. As it turns out, Les Misérables is really long. It boasts some 530,982 words depending on the translation, but, and I say this in all honesty, not a word is misspent. Victor Hugo is a master. Still, Les Misérables is long, and a reader should know what he or she is in for when embarking on such a long journey.
Les Misérables is broken into five volumes. Each volume is somewhere between eight and 15 books. A book can host anywhere between four to 24 chapters, but, for the most part, each chapter is short and quickly consumed. The language, though published in 1862, is easily digested, but, of course, this depends on your translation. I am reading the Hapgood translation, translated in 1887, because Hapgood’s version is unabridged. While there are many Les Misérables translations, there aren’t too many that are unabridged.
You might be asking: “Why read the unabridged version?” Well, Hugo was known for his digressions. At one point, he spends some 40 pages recounting the Battle of Waterloo. Yet, too me, this is what makes Les Misérables such an engrossing novel. Hugo, with all his intellectual ability, thrusts his reader into 19th-century France. Here is history, social critique, philosophy, and theology writ on a grand scale and wrapped in an engrossing narrative. If, however, you are not interested in Hugo’s lengthy digressions, then buy yourself the abridged version. Though, for this reader, you’ll be sacrificing excellence.