Hugo describes early 19th-century France with a sweeping power that gives his novel epic stature. Among the most famous chapters are the account of the battle of Waterloo and Valjean's flight through the Paris sewers.
(P)1996 Blackstone Audiobooks
"When I was 15, I was completely bowled over by Les Miserables. All my life long I have continually been discovering fresh aspects of Hugo's genius." (Andre Maurois)
This audiobook is very long - but not at all tedious!
The narratrive is fast paced, well read and a pleasure to listen to.
This epic page turner really did have me enthralled and rooting for the antihero of this classic tale.
So I finally finished Les Miserables. It took me five months to listen to the whole thing, a 60-hour audio book. There were several points where I nearly gave up, and one where I actually announced on Facebook that I had given up. But I went back to it and I'm ever so glad that I did.
Let me start by saying that this is a fantastic book. There were times when I was slogging through some of the digressions that I wondered just how this could possibly have been considered a classic. But now I know.
At first, I sensed a similarity with Crime & Punishment, which just happens to have been published in the same decade as Les Miserables, as indeed was War & Peace, which I have also read. The part where Jean Valjean, as Monsieur Madeleine, is fighting with his conscience about going to rescue the man who has been arrested as Jean Valjean and then his journey there, fraught with difficulty.
It's been interesting to read some of the reviews on Goodreads after finishing the book. They are almost all five stars and there are a few instances where readers have read the abridged version and then gone back to read the unabridged and enjoyed it ever so much more. As I was listening to it, there were many occasions when I wished I had downloaded the abridged version instead. I mean come on, pages and pages of description about the Paris sewers? The whole Waterloo bit? I honestly struggled through these parts. I wonder if it would have been easier to read than to listen to.
Anyway, I listened to the last 8 hours or so in a couple of days, at first because I just wanted it finished and out of the way, but then because it was just so good that I didn't want to stop. I had guessed how the novel would end, but that didn't spoil the ending at all. It was so well written that I was left with a feeling of elation that has lasted through to the following day as I write this.
Suffice it to say that I am very glad that I persevered with this and got to the end. I actually would quite
Magnificent as a work of literature - the language, detail and scope are breath-taking - but made a real test of listening endurance by the narration.
I constantly marvelled at Hugo's breadth and depth of knowledge. I know some listeners have complained about the "asides" lasting an hour, and I confess my own heart sank at times when I realised Hugo was going off at a tangent, but I couldn't help but be amazed at how much he KNOWS about everything and the way in which he covers his subjects from every angle. What an incredible mind. I was fascinated by the data on the French sewer system! I should also say that I am a professional translator and I was constantly stunned by the quality of this translation - so poetic and flowing and such a wealth of rich vocabulary.
Yes, it's a marathon and of course I respect him for his staying power, but the narrator at times drove me mad. He reads with a cynical or (as others have commented) bored tone, and has an irritating habit of letting his voice go UP at the end of a sentence so it sounds like a question ("Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo?"). I really recommend other listeners to wait until a better reading is released. It's only because the book is so good that I stuck with it. I will definitely avoid all other readings by this narrator.
I am giving this this 2 stars overall purely because of the narrator.
At over 66 hours of listening, this is a lot of book for one credit. I was taking my 80 year old father to see the live show in London and wanted to get a handle on the story before we went - I was blown away by it - a huge story of an immense character, of love, loss, sacrifice, intrigue - you name it this book has it. I wasn't sure of the narrator at first, but soon grew to love his voice and it suited the story so well. I can't rate this book highly enough - but be prepared to have to put your life on hold while you immerse yourself in this truly astonishing novel.
I admit I was sceptical about Frederick Davidson's voice and style. In fact, I only bought this book because it was the only available unabridged version, and I am so glad I did. The book itself, this timeless masterpiece, hardly needs recommendation or introduction. The wonderful surprise, for me, was the delightful, intelligent, vivid and character-faithful narration of Davidson. Thanks Audible!
Nic - husband, daddy, author, pain specialist, clinical manager, and general book enthusiast.
If they had the time to listen. And listen you must. Hugo's pathological attention to detail means that huge chunks of this book are dedicated to long meandering foundation stories. However, they give the book a depth that I feel is second to none. You do not merely observe the epochs; you are invited to feel, smell, see, and hear them in all their detail.
Obviously there is the story we all know and love. Jean Valjean pinches some bread and... well, the rest is history. However, the rest really is history. Hugo uses various historical events as more than just a backdrop; as an atmosphere, in which our characters traverse with varying levels of success.
With regular reference to Dante and Homer, Hugo states clearly his lofty ambitions as a great epic writer and succeeds. Each character (so far as I can see) has their own historical / literary allegory. Valjean's journey of discovery of faith and commitment, Cossette's rise from distinct adversity (see St. Euphrasia of Constantinople, is that her namesake? possibly) and so on.
With various accents and tone, Davidson manages to differentiate between them. There was a certain degree of ham to the acting but all is forgiven for what must have been a marathon effort
Not that pillock Russell Crowe as Javert for sure!
If you haver the time... do listen. It will make the film and the musical make much more sense.
I'm sure there are better readings and adaptations of this book for audio - the novel is huge, sprawling and endlessly detailed, and requires a storyteller of real talent to bring it to life. The performer reading this version veers between sounding bored or like a grotesque pastiche. Utterly ruins the narrative and made me lose any sympathy or empathy with the characters featured.
I've read this book and hoped that hearing a reading would add to my understanding. I don't think that it did. What I like about the story is the way that it immerses you completely in what France was like at the time - this reading, however, jolts you out of any such escapism with a lacklustre approach and bizarre delivery.
The story was just badly told. It sounded bored at points, at others like he was giving a very self serving performance that bordered on pastiche. It was distracting and made me cringe.
Oh sweetie, there's already been quite a few adaptations of this story. It's been a musical for years.
Find another performer to do this story justice. Tempted to ask for my money back.
Writer, theatre reviewer, geek
Victor Hugo remains one of the greatest masters of European literature. Unfortunately, I really struggled to get through Davidson's awful style of delivery.
The character of Javert and Valjean, and the way they circle each other over the decades, is as compelling as ever.
Davidson wheezes and rasps – every inhalation is picked up. He has a habit of finishing sentences as if he is only pausing, full stops replaced by commas,
When he continues at a different scene, it's quite, quite jarring and very annoying.
It's absolutely worth sticking with for the story. But you'll want to inflict every form of physical violence imaginable on the narrator.
I didn't like the audio sample but it was the only unabridged version and lots of reviews said they didn't like the audio sample but enjoyed the book. I have to say I agree. It's a wonderful book and wonderfully read. I'm going to miss it when I finish it!
66 hours sounded like a long listen, but this was a book I just looked forward to listening to day after day, never getting bored. A stonking good story, beautifully narrated. I was transfixed and missed it terribly once I'd finished it.
"I love this book - one of the best of all time"
Les Miserables is my favorite novel of all time. It is a big, long, involved book. You may want to read an abridged version, although I would not.
Some people have compared Jean Valjean to a Christ-type figure, but I strongly disagree with the analogy. Rather, the Bishop of Digne is most definitely the Christ figure. Valjean becomes, by virtue of the Good Man buying his soul, a counter part of Everyman. As he tries to make himself an honest man, he goes through struggle after struggle, but with the determination to live up to the vision the Bishop had of him when he gave Valjean the silver. The Bishop seems to already have transcended the bigger part of his humanness, and in fact, as he pays for the sins of Valjean, seems to have completed his work of becoming perfect. The silver was his last holdout, his last symbol of desiring the things of the earth, and he gave them away without a second thought when he realized that another of God's sons needed it worse. As I watch Valjean's transformation, it is impossible not to see myself in him.
Now, about the narrator. I have read reviews on Frederick Davidson that consider him everywhere from the absolute worst to someone you have to acquire a taste for. I am in the latter category. When I first started listening, I really wondered if I could listen to him read my golden book for 60 hours. Eventually, however, I came to love the man as a narrator, and forgave without a thought his little idiosyncrasies. His characterizations are without equal, and I have heard some pretty astounding narrators. As I listened to the last three hours of Les Miserables, I was putty in Davidson's hands. I cannot even express in words what it was like to listen to him read this most tender and spiritual part. By the end, I was a slobbering mess, but thanking my God for this book, this author and this reader, and the lessons I had learned once again.
"one happy insomniac"
I found the unabriged Les Mis an excellent listen. It's interesting enough to keep one from thinking of other things at the end of a long day, but not so interesting it kept me awake. The three volumes have been my bedtime story for the last year. I settle in to bed, set my iPod to turn itself off in thirty minutes, click play, turn the volume down low and let the reader's sexy French accent carry me off to dreamland. Hugo's masterpiece is sublimely suited for this purpose--missing a few minutes here and there doesn't detract from the overall experience of the book. Listeners who are accustomed to the less wordy novels of our time may find Les Miserables frustrating. A contemporary novel is like swimming brisk laps; Hugo's work is like closing your eyes and floating along in the current, trusting to the author's able pen to make the journey pleasant and rewarding. It takes some getting used to, but once you've gotten the knack of relaxing into the pacing, the book's ponderous plot is charming, and its characters richly evoked.
I read the book first, but I confess I skipped over much of the "digressions" I guess you would call them and skipped around just to follow the plot. I guess I'm a lazy reader that way. Now to hear them read to me, especially the French phrases and names I had so much difficulty with, I feel I'm getting a whole new perspective. Yes, Davidson is challenging at times but if you listen closely, he really does a beautiful job narrating. Check out his "I Claudius" for a truly superb narration.
"Excellent -- worth the investment"
Takes a LONG time to listen to but well worth it. Narration is excellent. The only thing I will say is I found it odd that the narrator has an English accent given the amount of French in the translated text. Other than that, the narrator does an admirable job bringing characters to life over such a long novel. The quality of the narration is critical to making an audio book listenable. I have bought some books that were simply unlistenable but this one is excellent.
"Reputation is Well-Deserved"
It took me quite a while to get through this (about 3 months), but it was worth it in the end. The redeeming nature of the story and the themes make it a "must read".
As was mentioned by many others, the digressions (history of the sewer system, history of a particular convent and religious order, etc..) got tiresome, however the degree to which this annoys people can vary greatly.
I disagree with those who thought the narrator was poor. I can't believe someone would have the stamina to get through this monstrosity! I would only agree that the narrator should NEVER consider a career in singing. That part was absolutely awful! However his ability to use different voices for the many different characters was commendable.
I have one recommendation for those who may choose to read this. If yo know little or nothing about the French Revolution, it will be worth the effort to pick up a Sparks Notes or Cliff Notes on the French Revolution and read up before you start. It will greatly aid in your understanding.
Once again, the story is fantastic and the investment is time well spent. Just be prepared to struggle a bit at times.
"Maybe the best book ever written."
I have listened to this book at least three times now and it is still one of the most enjoyable books I have ever experienced. The narrator is perfect for the time period and one soon forgets about him all together. This is really several books all in one. The plays and movies can never do justice to this story as it is so wide and deep that one would have to make a nine season television series on the BBC to cover it all. Listen to the book and then listen to it again. You will be rewarded with many things you missed on the first go around. All aspects of humanity are illuminated and thoroughly examined in Hugo's tireless style. Settle in and enjoy this book. It is worth every second.
"The Greatest Story Ever Told"
This is a fantastic book. The story is amazing. It was entertaining but at the same time enlightening. I felt blessed for what I have and resolved to be a better person. It such a moving story I am a little surprised their are not more reviews of it. I have read the book and seen the play several times but I don't believe that you need to be familiar with the story to enjoy this book on tape.
As far as the quality of this offering I would say that the naration was very good. The voices are great and really fit the characters. I have to admit that in places the descriptions get a little long and some of the monologues are a bit over the top but I felt well rewarded for my patience. At the end of the book you feel edified and uplifted.
"Now I know why it is a classic"
I have wanted to listen to this book for a long time. Thanks to a gift membership from my son, I was able to do so -- and to join Audible at the same time. Frederick Davidson is not my favorite reader, but since I listen only to unabridged books, I had no choice. I have to admit that this is one of Davidson's best works. The range of his voices, and his articulation of French and Latin words makes this an excellent production. Some parts of this book seem like huge digressions. They are just Hugo's efforts to tell the history of France and give the reader a clear understanding of the setting of this story. By the end of the book, none of the digressions are remembered or regretted. At the end -- and what an end it is -- the reader has a good understanding of who the characters are and how they fit into the story. Davidson's reading of the last hour or so of Les Miserables should be among the hall-of-fame of audiobooks (along with Frank Mueller's reading of Tale of Two Cities) -- I listen while I commute and I just kept driving to the end! This book is full of Hugo's political and religious ideas (which at times get a little preachy and ponderous). Regardless of whether you agree with Hugo's views, you will have to admit that this is an incredible story -- a true Victorian classic.
"Worth the time"
I adore the narrator, David Case/Frederick Davidson (I only recently learned they are the same person). I can't believe anyone would fault him for his singing voice. I doubt someone with a better singing voice could hold one's attention and use inflection better than he does. His ability to switch between characters and maintain their personas is unsurpassed in my opinion.
Several years ago, I listened to the unabridged version that I checked out from my public library. Wishing to revisit it, I recently purchased it on CD, not realizing it was the abridged version. I am now downloading this version because there is a lot that has been skipped. Yes, it is long but I get a lot of laundry folded, dishes washed and other mindless tasks completed while immersed in this book and the characters!
"in defence of the narrator"
It's been years since I listened to this, but recent criticisms of narrator Davidson in the $5.95 promotion of this version of Les Miserables prompt me to weigh in. Since this is an older recording, Davidson is reading in a more "classically" delivered style. I think it fits the text beautifully. Because the novel is a favourite, I also downloaded the equally wonderful - but later and different - George Guidall version. It's also excellent. So - if you're considering this because of the special price, listen to the sample and know that Davidson's style can "grow" on you, especially for 19th century text. One caveat: My download was in an earlier format - I do notice from the sample at least that the "enhanced" conversion of the files might accentuate the "breathing" sounds narrators make --all narrators breathe, so I think it's the production, not Davidson, that brings these sounds out. I like a classic British narrator for prose like this, so I like the late Mr Davidson - you may not.
Finally, if you are looking for a faster paced "Les Mis", there are other revisions of Hugo's novel that might appeal more. Audible is awesome for making the original of this novel available at so accessible a price. It's a different journey than the film (especially the Davidson narrated version) , but one worth making.
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