Je Ne Comprends Pas

Title: “Les Misérables”

Author: Victor Hugo

Rank: 41

Blurb: “Victor Hugo’s towering novel of Jean Valjean, his unjust imprisonment, and his lifelong flight from a relentless police officer.”

Review: “Have a dictionary handy as there are many words that need translation.”

Customers Also Bought: “Les Miserables In Plain and Simple English”

Footnote: Is that the one with the cookies?

Les Misérables [Amazon]

Buy or Die [Stinque@Amazon Kickback Link]


I saw the recent film. It’s a dumbed-down version of something that, frankly, was already dumbed down. Hugh Jackman and Russel Crowe simply can’t sing the music, and Anne Hathaway manages to be adequate in the role of Fantine, which is a difficult role to NOT knock out of the park, as long as you can sing it. And Sasha Baron-Cohen and Helena Bonaham-Carter rely mostly on shtick and mugging as the Thernerdiers- there’s not much fun in them, and very little menace either.

It’s a gorgeous film from an art-direction standpoint, however, and the supporting players, particularly Eponene, are great. They should have left the leads to the professionals, however- Musical Theatre is so difficult and specialized true practitioners are a class unto themselves.

I would gnaw off a limb to avoid that movie.

@SanFranLefty: Isn’t it totally breath-takingly wondrous? And when you think it can’t possibly get any better – it does. Remind me: in the show Fantine sells her hair but in the novel doesn’t she sell her teeth? Oh right, spoiler alert.

Not a fan of that musical. Or indeed of that style. Too pompous for my taste. And I can’t bear that style of singing: all phony emotion and howling. Personally I don’t give a fuck if you can belt an a flat I want to hear some head in the voice.

Though I must say it was given a splendid production and on the stage you were too busy marveling at how imaginative it all was to really hear the songs: Apart from It’s Too High as the chorus wittily rechristened Bring Him Home. When the barricades came down on John Napier’s stunning set you were just about ready to storm the motherfucking stage. Or when the stage started to turn and the entire cast started to do The Step. Wow.

Fun fax: for the B’way costumes (superb) Limey designer insisted that no velcro or zippers be used, everything had to either button or hook thus adding major headaches for the dressers and much, much money to the budget. And everyone apart from, I think JVJ and Javert were on the iniquitous pink chorus contracts because everyone played more than one role which, in the eyes of Equity, defines ensemble.

Maybe I have this wrong, but in the plot descriptions I’m reading they state that JVJ goes to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. As I remember that’s right. But his crime is, after he’s served his time and the bishop has given him the silver, his crime is that he robs a child of, as I remember 40 sous. That is what he can never forgive himself and what sets in motion the mighty engine of the plot. That’s why Javert pursues him. That’s what makes him give himself up. Innit?

@SanFranLefty: I bought this, but I need to get through Infinite Jest first. I need a fucking magnifying lens to read the 100s of footnotes.

@Tommmcatt Can’t Believe He Ate The Whole Thing: I wish. It wasn’t available in electronic format, so I bought a paperback edition that is falling apart as I page forward and aft from text to footnotes etc.

You will learn about the Paris sewers. And it will change your wife life. You will want to wade through shit with a boy on your back. You will want to sing power ballads. Just saying.

@Tommmcatt Can’t Believe He Ate The Whole Thing: Re: tablet reader aka iPad. I have been trying to read for most of my adult life, which as you know did not start yesterday, though as a boy I remember reading accounts of the jousting that was so popular in your youth that gave rise to the fashion for assless chaps so dear to your heart for obvious reasons, to read an account of how homos stormed Everest. Not that it’s not engrossing – as the actress said to the bishop – but why should one read about Rinpoche Ringrangroo when one could be playing Angry Birds Seasons? Tiz a puzzlement.

@Dodgerblue: Good luck with that. I have never been able to make it past about page 25 of Infinite Jest.

@SanFranLefty: It ranks with Gravity’s Rainbow in the “life is too damn short” column for me.

@Mistress Cynica: I’ve read Rainbow twice. It’s in my top 5 of modern fiction. But I disliked Vineland and couldn’t get through Mason and Dixon.

@Dodgerblue: Oh God are we discussing Thing? Wasn’t that 1960? And the V novel? Thomas Pynchon? Amirite? If we need to talk about him let’s talk about the real thing, William Gaddis for fuck’s sake. Can we please step up to the plate, people.

@Benedick: I’m just not clever enough for any of that. Just tell me a good story dammit, she said as she stamped off to re-read Austen.

Asimov. China Mielvulle. Early to mid-career Stephen King.

That’s what I’m sayin’.

@Benedick: I was going to mention Gaddis in my response to Cyn but felt that it might appear pretentious. Thank you for boldly going where I did not. The Recognitions is also in my top 5.

@Mistress Cynica: Just tell me a good story dammit

Sometimes a Great Notion.

Kesey couldn’t top himself after that, so he went off to do something else.

That movie sucked, too.

@Dodgerblue: Agreed on Pynchon. I wanted to like V, but couldn’t. Mason-Dixon sits on a shelf, bookmark at page 20 or something.

As for Infinite Jest, it sits on my bedstand at home, for reading in 20 page bursts. I carried it around the globe with me a few years back, thinking then I’d finish it, but nope. Someone told me to just leave all the footnotes for after I finish it, by which time of course I’ll probably need to have my grandkids read them to me. I did the iPad-footnotes thingy with “Consider the Lobster”, and that was moderately easy except when he footnotes a footnote.

When I was 13 or 14 I spent a summer reading Catch 22, Sometimes a Great Notion and The Naked and the Dead. And fishing. Possibly the best summer of my life.

@Tommmcatt Can’t Believe He Ate The Whole Thing: Early to mid-career Stephen King. What’s the one where the guy sleeps an hour less a day until he starts seeing colored strings coming off peoples’ heads? That was fucking awesome; I think of that every time I struggle with jetlag, which is every three months or so.

@nojo: Isn’t that when everyone reads it? A year or two after Lord of the Rings? And a year or two before War and Peace? Brothers Karamazov comes somewhere in-between. Those big books you soak in during those years never leave you. Makes me grateful to have been an only child. Sidebar: at school, when I was 14 I played Major Barbara in play of same name. Ten years later I played Cusins (her bf: it involved tweed knickers and a Salvation Army suit) in a very good production detested by its audience – first time I was booed! But I found that I knew all of Cusins lines in any scene in which Barbara appeared. I had just absorbed them in my youth. Not like now with an envelope and hour after hour of easing it down the page, line by line.

@Dodgerblue: Love that book. And his last with the joke law suit on behalf of the Episcopalian church suing Pepsi Cola for copyright infringement. If you don’t know it might I suggest The Manuscript Found at Sargosa by Jan Potok. He spent his lifetime writing it; it defies description but it’s one of those novels that, when you start to glimpse its structure, makes you tremble. Penguin Classics. Trust me.

@Mistress Cynica: Not clever enough? Oh, grow a pair. Les Miserables is a great conflagration of stories. All of which come together as the author tries to understand why we sometimes act in good and selfless ways. And what are the consequences of those actions. When Cosette and Marius turn on JVJ over a misunderstanding and he makes no defense because he can never forgive himself his one great crime and he grows so weak and Cosette finds out the truth – too late? How can JVJ earn forgiveness and will Marius find him in time…? Fuck me in the heart. Go out right now, buy that book, a bottle of bourbon, and some catnip. Tell Mr Cyn you feel a psychotic episode coming on, get him a Dead blu ray or something, lock yourself in a room with a plentiful supply of Kleenex, and let it begin.

Entries like these add to the feeling that I have missed out on my education. I have read MASH but not Catch 22. I have never read Tolkien but would like to before I die. I have read most of Stienbeck, most of Michener. I have read all of E.R. Burroughs, R.E.Howard and H.P. Lovecraft although I am not fond of horror. I have read all of Mari Sandoz (Cheyenne Autumn), some Utley and Josephy. I have read Finnegan’s Wake but gave up on everything else by Joyce (what a shlog). I have read all of C.W. Smith. Working on a Morton Thompson novel now and enjoying it. He only wrote two novels but authored the recipe for a Thompson Turkey. Look that up for a chuckle.

@DElurker: I could have posted excerpts from Catch-22 every day for the past month, and that would have been my complete, exhaustive, and precise coverage of the Fiscal Cliff.

@Benedick: Manuscript at Saragosa was also purchased per your recommendation, but I love Les Miserables, so I had to read it first.

@DElurker: Joyce, oy vey. Definitely try Catch 22. And if you haven’t already read them, I highly recommend the “Brit chick” books of Bronte and Austen. Rather subversive shit is going on when you get in the groove.

@SanFranLefty: Joyce is a cult.

Oh shit, Academic Stormtroopers just bashed in my door.

@DElurker: Joyce: The Dead. Shivering awesome good without the Oirish hell. As to Tolkein might I point your eyes to the Penguin volume of Icelander Sagas, the real deal, what he stole from. So very strange and yet totally cowboy. Plus you can read how Vikings first colonized Canada. I know, you’re thinking: why? But they did.

@SanFranLefty: Darling, you have such treats in store – as the bishop said to the actress.

@Benedick: I’ve read Les Mis, and liked it well enough but I generally prefer Zola or even Balzac to Hugo. I’m having another go at Proust–last time I bogged down in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah.

@DElurker: You’ve read the most difficult Joyce out there. Everything else is Fun with Dick and Jane in comparison. I liked The Dead and the rest of Dubliners, but the whole making language up stuf just annoys me. Funny story: we have a number of Joyce first/early editions in our current catalogue (I work for a rare book dealer). The pages are uncut (i.e., unread) in most of them. In one copy of Ulysses, the entire thing is uncut except for Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the very end–the only part most people ever read. Mint firsts of Finnegan are not difficult to come by.

@Mistress Cynica: I was fortunate to have an AP English teacher in high school who tossed us into the Finnegan’s Wake end of Joyce’s pool. Ulysses had to wait until I was in the Peace Corps, aka two years of read, read, read, do something good, and read. I like that style, although as-the-bishop-said-to-the-actress-me if I can remember more than bits and pieces.

ADD: @Nojo: My dad and brothers left all kinds of books around the house, and that summer was kind of like a growth spurt for me. A year earlier it was a struggle to get me to read anything more than MAD magazine and Classics Illustrated.

@Mistress Cynica: Well between thee and me? Try the “Baroque Cycle” by Neal Stephenson.

Three books covering the end of slavery, the introduction of currency, a penis-less pirate, the beginnings of the “Royal Society”.

And each book is thick enough you can use it as a door stopper or to kill cockroaches.

I lent my copies to someone and will now have to replace them. Or, try “American Gods” by Neil Gamin.

Add a Comment
Please log in to post a comment