This book wasn’t on top of my reading list. I never heard of it until a series of A-list actors came together to act in a movie based on it. 1232 pages long novel was just sat there, at the highest row of shelf in the Teenage section in my local bookstore. It was the only copy there. I think the staffs knew no one from a small town in Malaysia would bother to read this book. Why it was in the Teenage section? I have no idea. But I saw it, couldn’t even reach it so had help to get it and finally walked away with it.
Let me make myself clear; the closest thing that I read with French words inserted here and there is Anna Karenina. I never watch a French movie or drama in my entire life. So you can understand how much I can grasp when comes to this foreign language. French was taught in my university back during my undergraduate days but never cross my mind to take it. The closest I have to a French figure in my mind is the skunk in Looney Tunes cartoons whose name I don’t even bother to remember. Here I am reading a Victor Hugo novel with the words Monsieur, Madame, Mme. Putting aside my difficulties to pronounce a handful of words as I read, I must say this novel, is one of the most of beautifully written novel I ever read.
I just finished part one of the novel, Fantine. My personal conflict reading these translated novels is my fear of not knowing what the original author really meant and being misled by the translators. I thought about this when I read Anna Karennia, wondering what would it sound or meant in Russian. Norman Denny, the translator for Les Miserables version that I’m reading understood perfectly what I meant quoting him the book’s introduction,
‘It is now generally recognized that the translator’s first concern must be with his author’s intention; not with the words he uses or with the way he uses them, if they have a different impact when they are rendered too faithfully into English, but with what he is seeking to convey to the reader.’
After reading this, I knew I was in good hands.
I will not brief the synopsis here but just to share why this book somehow able to bring out the poetic side of me. Synopsis is easily be found in wikipedia but the essence of the novel is rarely being captured in words.
I guess it’s easier for me to relate the religous part of this novel with my Catholic upbringing. Book one of part one, An Upright Man went smoothly because I always have been fascinated by the sanctity of religous life. Nor I was anxious to know if the old bishop to have anything to do with Fantine as the part one was named. Denny described Hugo in a perfect manner, ‘He had little or no regard for the discipline of novel-writing. He had to say everything and more than everything; he was incapable of leaving anything out.’ After I turned to the next book, I began to feel my brain juice was draining because it was overloaded with information, storylines and descriptions. So I did the big ‘No-no’ of reading, I skipped two books of Part Two: Cosette; Waterloo and The Ship Orion. Not that I’m saying I’m proud of what I did. One day I might rereading this book and pray that no page is left unturned. For now, I just want to know what is going to happen to Valjean and Cossete and couldn’t care less of the war and politics.