It took me a long time to get around to The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. Just looking at it from my desk, I knew that it was one of those books where a perfectly good story gets interrupted occasionally by hundreds of pages about agrarian reform.
I was wrong, but if you substitute agrarian reform for “loving descriptions of every single brick in every single cathedral in Paris,” I’m not dead wrong. I’m right on, in fact.
I don’t say it as a negative, but this is just not how books are written these days. I won’t argue when today’s modern reader tells me that Hunchback is one very boring book. Oh, who am I kidding? Today’s modern reader doesn’t read anything longer than text messages.
Except for you, of course, genius reader.
The old books were very, very different. Can you imagine picking up the latest James Patterson or Tom Clancy book and find someone closing in on someone else, only to veer off into 300 pages of tax code?
Does this mean there are no more classics? Guess we’ll see what people are saying in 80 or 90 years.
So, on to the story. I loved it! I was familiar with the skimpiest outline–there is a hunchback, there are some bells, there is a cathedral–but couldn’t have told you any of the events of the story. I haven’t seen the Disney movie.
It’s a romance.
A romance between a hunchback named Quasimodo, a gypsy, the sinister Archdeacon Claude Frollo, and a dandy of a military captain named Phoebus. Other players include every single brick in Paris, Djali the goat, a deaf judge (yes, a deaf judge!), Victor Hugo appearing in a series of constant asides like “As we’ve already shown the reader,” a poet and playwright, a bunch of jolly wretches in the Court of Miracles, a torturer, a bunch of bitchy social climbing women who make fun of La Esmeralda’s short skirt, and…there might be a few others, but I’ll leave it at that.
I read the beginning of the book on audio but got so annoyed with the reader’s British accent that I picked up the pages. I like British accents, but this guy was not doing it for me, particularly in the opening scenes where the action keeps getting interrupted by jeering hooligans:
“Down with the rector.”
“Down with the inspector.”
There were more rhymes but they are lost to me. The rhymes were really annoying in the audiobook, and the reader was not very adept at doing high-pitched female voices, though try he did.
I do think it’s a wonderful story and I enjoyed it immensely. I think I’m going to commit Claude Frollo’s endless monologue about his lustful torments to memory so I can trot it out every time I need some lovin’. It would break your heart. Or make you laugh. This is groveling.
I will admit that once I picked up the physical book and started turning pages, I skimmed the opuses about architecture and Parisian style.
I’m not going to try and write any real criticism here. I didn’t pay enough attention. If you’re desperate for that sort of thing let me know and I’ll find some Doctoral dissertations on Parisian architecture for–hey, where are you going?
If you have the patience for this sort of book–you probably know if you do–Hunchback is a fine story. Lots of fun.
Rating: 99 one-eyed hunchbacks.