Monday, October 31, 2016

Classics Club 33: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

I read and enjoyed Les Miserables several years ago, so was looking forward to The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. This sprawling story is set in and around Notre-Dame Cathedral (in fact the French title is Notre-Dame de Paris, and many claim the cathedral itself is actually the central character). I found it a little slow to get going initially. Partly this is because of Hugo's lengthy descriptions and discursions, which the sewers of Les Miserables had at least prepared me. Visualization is not my strength so the chapters giving detailed descriptions of Notre-Dame and it's surrounds detracted rather than enhanced my reading experience. The other reason was that, thanks to popular culture I was expecting a story about a hunchback and a gypsy. Of course this novel is so much more than that but the fact that these well-known  characters did not initially feature significantly led to some initial confusion on my part.

Once I read a little further  the complex, complicated relationship between Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Count Frollo (surely one of the most evil characters I've encountered this year), complicated even more by the priest's brother Jehan, Esmeralda's husband, her love interest, and her (unknown) mother began to be revealed.I found this was when the novel really hummed and was at it's strongest and most compelling . Some of the more minor characters and sub-plots were an unnecessary distractions.

While Hugo's writing style can be a little wordy at time, I do enjoy his wit and sarcasm  which is often at it's finest when pointing out the flaws and hypocrisies of those in power.

The ending was another highlight. After the epic battle over entry to the cathedral, the ultimate ending was understated and arguably all the more heart-rending for it.

This novel, provided me with much food for thought around issues such as love vs lust, justice, suffering and the way in which we judge others based on their outward appearance. While not as strong as Les Miserables it was well worth my while to read, and is one classic I would consider rereading in future years.

1 comment:

  1. I am rediscovering how interesting the classics really are. I've been hemming and hawing about reading this one but it sounds like it might be worth the time and effort! Thanks for the review!

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