I finished this excellent book today and it was wonderful. It was definitely an investment in time and effort, but the story and the characters will stay with me. I’m counting this one for all three of my current challenges – The Winter Classics Challenge, The Chunkster Challenge and the TBR Challenge.

This book has it all. Of course, at 1463 pages long there’s room for plenty. There are heroes, villains, tragic heroines, orphans, Napoleon, Waterloo, a grandson disowned by his grandfather, a son striving to honor the request of a dying father, an evil innkeeper and his equally evil wife, a policeman who won’t give up on his search for a former thief, priests, nuns, criminals, idealistic young men, political turmoil, etc, etc, and it’s wonderful. There is way too much plot to even give a hint without either giving away something or just having it so far out of context that it doesn’t make any sense. Yes there are parts that are probably worth skimming and some parts are much easier to read than others, but I am so very glad that I finally read this. The large and varied cast of characters is so well written that even the minor ones play an important role in the story as a whole. Thanks to Booklogged, Boofkool, and Mizbooks – your challenges inspired me to read this Classic Chunkster that’s been on my TBR list for ages.

Just a few more favorite passages . . .

On Napoleon and Waterloo:

Napoleon had been impeached before the infinite and his fall was decreed.

He annoyed God.

Waterloo is not a battle; it is the changing face of the Universe.

More on Waterloo:

The shadow of an enormous right hand rests on Waterloo. It was the day of Destiny. A power beyond Man controlled that day. Hence the breakdown of minds in horror; hence all those great souls yielding their swords. Those who had conquered Europe collapsed to the ground, with no more to say or do, feeling a terrible dark presence approach. Hoc erat in fatis. That day the perspective of the human race changed. Waterloo is the hinge of the nineteenth century. This disappearance of the great man was necessary for the coming of the great century. One, to whom there can be no reply, took it in hand. The panic of heroes can be explained. In the battle of Waterloo there was more than a cloud, there was s meteor. God has passed over it.

On Buildings and Architecture:

Part of the building has recently been torn down, but what remains still conveys an idea of what it once was. The structure, taken as a whole, is not more than a hundred years old. A hundred years is youth in a church, but old age to a private house. It would seem that Man’s dwelling shares the brevity of his existence, and God’s dwelling, His eternity.

On turning points in the life of Jean Valjean:

And then he reflected that two houses of God had received him in succession at the two critical moments in his life, the first, when every doors were closed and human society rejected him; the second, when human society was once more howling on his track, and when prison once more gaped for him; and that, had it not been for the first, he would have fallen back into crime, and had it not been for the second, into punishment.

A young girl grows up:

She had not only grown, she had become idealized. As three days in April are enought for certain trees to put on a covering of flowers, six months had been enough for her to put on a mantle of beauty. Her April had come.

More on the inadequacies of the French prison system:

Robbers do not cease operations because they are in the hands of justice. They are not so easily disconcerted. Being in prison for one crime does not prevent the inception of another. They are artists who, simultaneously have a picture on exhibit in the salon, while painting a new one in their studio.

On nature after a spring or summer shower:

Nothing is so beautiful as greenery washed by the rain and wiped by the sunbeam; it is warm freshness. The gardens and meadows, having water at their roots, and sunshine in their flowers, become vases of incense, and exhale all their perfumes at once. Everything laughs, sings and proffers itself. We feel sweet intoxicatioin. Spring is a provisional paradise, sunshine helps to make man patient.

Taking on a book this size is not for everyone, but if you’re thinking about it I highly recommend that you give it a try.