I suffered through Victor Hugo's Les Miserables in high school French, but I thought I'd take this on the airplane on my way to Paris, and I wasn't disappointed at all. The plot begins by following a somewhat minor character (who keeps popping up at crucial points and becomes something more major to the plot and theme), a poet who writes a morality play, fails utterly to perform it and get paid for it, and falls in with a crowd to thieves and vagabonds. On his descent, he encounters the innocent and beautiful Esmeralda (with her pet goat, who is even more enchanting), the pitiful and powerful Quasimodo, the shining knight Phoebus, and the conflicted archdeacon Claude Frollo: all the major characters. His story entwines with theirs as we learn their histories, their desires, and their deepening involvement with each other that can only end in tragedy.

I loved how slowly the book built up the plot, revolving through each character and the occasional tangent into say, the history of medieval Paris, or a description of Notre Dame, before really taking off. The pacing is incredible: the first 300 pages are sort of set-up, and then the plot moves as the characters really encounter and react to each other, which is another 300 pages. The characters are completely indivduated, whether it's one of the main ones we see every other chapter, or a minor one, like the poet, or King Louis XI, or Frollo's younger brother, a gambler who steals church money to pay for his free-wheeling ways. The setting of medieval Paris (Hugo delayed writing the novel several times to continue his research) is so well described you might want a map to follow along when he describes a certain area of town that no longer exists (and didn't exist in 1830 when Hugo was writing).

In short, a great book, highly recommended for people who like long books and have a certain kind of patience for the way novels were once written.

wallyb's rating:
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