Notre-Dame de Paris
By: Victor Hugo
Format/Source: eBook; my copy
At the center of Hugo’s classic novel are three extraordinary characters caught in a web of fatal obsession. The grotesque hunchback Quasimodo, bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, owes his life to the austere archdeacon, Claude Frollo, who in turn is bound by a hopeless passion to the gypsy dancer Esmeralda. She, meanwhile, is bewitched by a handsome, empty-headed officer, but by an unthinking act of kindness wins Quasimodo’s selfless devotion. Behind the central figures moves a pageant of picturesque characters, including the underworld of beggars and petty criminals whose assault on the cathedral is one of the most spectacular set-pieces of Romantic literature.
Victor Hugo is one of those authors I’ve heard of and had been meaning to check out but never really gotten around to until now. Funny enough, I never got around to watching the Disney movie when it came out despite my love of history (one of my early loves) and despite the fact that I owned this book on how to make friendship bracelets featuring Disney’s Esmeralda, lol. But anyways, I was curious about the original story so I decided to read it.
(The review comes with pictures! =D I think I had more fun adding the photos for this one, lol)
This book is part of the Books on France Reading Challenge 2013 that I am participating in.
I seem to be on a bit of a roll right now in terms of slogging through French classics *blushes* Victor Hugo’s prose is dense; there are just tangents upon tangents in this novel. I can see why his publisher told him to hurry up at some point. I didn’t mind the chapter outlining the details about the Notre Dame cathedral itself since he described the state of the cathedral prior to its restoration in the late 19th century. In a way, it was almost like a historical travelogue of the infamous landmark. But there were other large chunks of this novel that I felt had nothing to do with the core of the story; by the time his narrative did turn back to the core characters and the main plot, I had forgotten the details of what happened before, which was frustrating as a reader.
Victor Hugo does however do a good job at exploring the back stories of the major characters involved and how their experiences influenced who they are in the present time that the story takes place. They have their own strengths, flaws and motivations (however ridiculous some of them become towards the end). There were a lot of cases throughout this novel of unrequited love and feelings not returned; it verged on the melodramatic at times–if not surging into that territory–but I feel that it was not to the extent of Balzac’s Cousin Bette (review). There were some really powerful and vivid imagery here and there, which were moving to read (especially the last three chapters or so; I found the last scene especially powerful).
I’m glad that I finally read Notre-Dame de Paris. Despite of the powerful imagery and the character back stories, it was overall an okay experience. Hugo’s writing and direction of storytelling is a bit of a turn-off, which is why I’m not in any rush to pick up Les Miserables any time soon (it will be read though…eventually).