Les Miserables, Book 5: Jean Valjean

It’s a little early to be writing my Favorite Books list for 2012, but it’s hard to imagine that Les Miserables will be surpassed. Such a good book. And it was the perfect book with which to begin the year—all about fresh starts and making better choices, striving and struggling toward goals, and understanding and sympathizing with others working toward their goals.

And that’s really not a bad way to start the new year.

I’ve not been consciously trying to avoid plot-spoilers in talking about this book—I would imagine that most people who find their way here are familiar with either one of the movie versions or the musical—but just in case you aren’t, Caution! there be spoilers ahead.

After spending a dangerous interlude in the Rue Saint-Denis, Jean Valjean saves Javert, who has been arrested as a spy and condemned by the revolutionaries at the barricade, and Marius, whose life is forfeit when the barricade falls. Since Jean Valjean rescued him, Javert, of course, again knows his location. Jean Valjean convinces him to let him take Marius, who is grievously wounded, home. And Javert agrees. Shocking!

I find Javert fascinating. He’s not a bad man. He’s just such an unimaginative man, rigidly adhering to rules, that he seems bad.

Before him he saw two roads, both equally straight; but he did see two; and that terrified him—he who had never in his life known anything but one straight line. And, bitter anguish, these two roads were contradictory.

He’s like the bogey man throughout the book—the implacable threat of the law ever tromp-tromping on the heels of poor Jean Valjean—and then he suddenly just, well, crumbles. To absolute bits.

Brilliant. Well done, Mr. Hugo, well done.

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