by Victor Hugo
Tales of spiritual struggle are always fun to read, even when they are troubling. Les Miserables gives us just such a story, with a complex set of moral dilemmas right at its center, all begging for attention and thought.
The length of the book has turned many readers off, making them opt for one of the various abridged versions available. I prefer the slow, heavy pace of the original, as it makes the reader think, and simultaneously allows space for thinking. It raises questions of what to do with society's outcasts, how to apply principles of social justice, whether there is such a thing as a holy cause, and where politics fits into it all. These are questions that, in the book, are set in the context of the French Revolution, but they are also questions that need rethinking in every context in every age.
The narrative shifts its perspective throughout the long telling of the story, moving between the big picture of national politics on battlefields to the smaller spaces glimpsed through knotholes in boards between the walls of neighboring homes. It looks at the complex set of problems it raises with both levels — the private and the public — in mind. And it very skillfully and subtly asks, how might a Christian respond to all of these problems in a way that honors his God?
Reviewed by Shelly Bryant 2010