Friday 28 December 2018

Les Misérables A Few Pages of History/ Quelques Pages d'histoire V4B1

Well this is a tough book to get through when you're trying to sprint to the end of the volume. A  Few Pages of History, yes. More like Five Chapters of History. Dense, intellectual history that I wish I knew enough to truly appreciate and understand. 

In (very fast) French
but with subtitles

The first five chapters of this book are a history lesson about the two years following the July Revolution of 1830. Much quieter than the well known French Revolution of 1789, the July revolution saw Louis-Philippe installed as King of the French. It seems Victor Hugo was quite the Louis-Philippe fan, even though he said that "the hour has not yet struck when history speaks in its venerable and impartial voice" to pass the "final verdict on this king". Yet he is "one of the best princes who ever sat  on a throne". "He was born a prince and believed that he had been elected king."

Louis-Philippe was a king of total transparency. While he reigned there was press freedom, parliamentary freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of speech.
Louis-Philippe sounds a rather fascinating man. 
He was a bit of a builder, a bit of a gardener, a bit of a doctor. He bled a postilion who fell off his horse. Louis-Philippe went nowhere without his surgical knife, any more  than Henri III without his dagger. The royalists jeered at this ridiculous king, the first ever to shed blood as a cure. 
We now know of course that the last thing a horse rider needs after a fall, and presumably decent trauma is further blood loss, and we would do the exact opposite and transfuse them if required, but the 19th century was interesting times. 

There is just so much detail and knowledge jam packed into every sentence of this book. I have a particular fascination with Joan of Arc, and so I was most interested to read:

One of Louis-Philippe's daughters, Marie d'Orléans, won for her distinguished family's name a place among artists, as Charles d'Orléans had won for it a place among poets. She carved a statue of her soul and named it 'Joan of Arc'.
Fascinating! This statue still exists and is on display at Versailles. I've visited Versailles many times. I don't remember seeing this statue in particular, but will have to trawl through my photos sometime, as I always take a picture of any Joan statue that I see. I'd thought that I'd visited Versailles enough but perhaps I will need to return. It seems the original is marble and there are several bronze replicas about the place (New York, Orleans and Domrémy at least), and there is even a painting by Auguste Vinchon of Louis-Philippe visiting the statue that I now need to see. 

The royal family in front of the statue of Joan of Arc
Auguste Vinchon, 1848

Aaaah, If only I could get to Versailles before February 3 I could see the current exhibition Louis-Philippe and Versailles! Louis-Philippe turned Versailles into a museum, and now 32 rooms not normally open to the public will be open for this exhibition. (There is a magnificent 76 page Press Kit to download from that page for those of us stuck in the Southern Hemisphere, or otherwise not near Versailles)

This book is really quite philosophical as well. 

Some people have wanted wrongly to identify the bourgeoisie as a class. The bourgeoisie is simply the contented section of the people. The bourgeois is the man who now has time to sit down. A chair is not a caste. 
And I think gives us an insight into Victor Hugo's own vision of the future. 
Solve the two problems, encourage the rich and protect the poor, eliminate destitution, put an end to the unjust exploitation of the weak by the strong; curb the iniquitous envy, in the one who is making his way up, of the one who has arrived; set the wages for a job fairly and in the spirit of fellowship, foster the development of childhood with free compulsory education and make knowledge the foundation of manliness, develop minds while keeping hands busy; democratise property not by abolishing it but by making it universal, so that every citizen without exception may be a property owner, something easier to achieve than people think. In short, lean how to produce wealth and how to distribute it, and you will have both material greatness and moral greatness. And you will be worthy of calling yourself France. 
In chapter 6 Enjolras and His Lieutenants we once again get back to the narrative. Enjolras is assessing the strength of numbers.
How many are we?... Revolutionaries should always feel a sense of urgency, progress has no time to lose.
All quotes are from the 2013 Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, translated by Christine Donougher. 

Thursday 27 December 2018

Les Misérables V3 Marius

Oh dear. I've had such a bad reading (and blogging) year. I've been becalmed for months, and not just in Les Mis. I was so excited about the #LesMisReadalong at the start of the year. I really thought I could keep up with it. It seemed doable. Manageable. Even though I am notoriously bad at books over 500 pages I thought that tackling a chapter a day might help me get over the line on time. Well, nope.

I was stalled in May for a long time, and then managed to get caught up to August. Although sadly in the Real Life World it's December, and not August. It's not like I don't like Victor Hugo's writing- I really do. There is something quotable or profound on pretty much every page. I do still very much want to finish it, I don't want to DNF Les Mis. I'm always more optimistic about my reading capabilities than I will ever achieve in this life time (which goes much of the way to explaining my TBR) , so much so that it was only yesterday that I realised that I really wouldn't finish Les Mis in the allocated 2018 reading time. 

But last night I finished Volume 3, Marius, and now I'm going to make a last ditch effort and try to read V4 The Rue Plumet Idyll and The Rue St-Denis Epic before the end of the year. This is optimistic I know. Especially as I go back to work on Sunday, and have multiple social engagements to fit in too. 

Marius is of course very much the subject of his own volume. Despite qualifying as a lawyer Marius falls onto very hard times after his estrangement from his grandfather. 

Life became hard for Marius. Using his clothes and his watch for food was nothing. There was much worse he had to stomach. Terrible hardship, consisting of days without bread, nights without sleep, no candle in the evening, no fire in the hearth, weeks without work, a future without hope, a coat worn through at the elbows, an old hat that makes young girls laugh, a door found locked a night because the rent was not paid, the insolence of the doorman and the eating-house keeper, the sneering of neighbours, humiliations, dignity trampled underfoot, having to accept any kind of work, demoralisation, bitterness, despondency. 
We learn that "Marius was now a handsome young man of medium height, with thick jet-black hair, an intelligent high forehead, flared, sensuous nostrils, an air of sincerity and calm", and when he first sees a young girl sitting with an old man in the Luxembourg Gardens, she is "a slip of a thing of thirteen or fourteen years of age, so thin as to be almost ugly, awkward, unremarkable, but with some promise perhaps of having quite attractive eyes."

Having all my prior Les Mis knowledge based on the stage and movie versions I was quite surprised at this first description of teenage Cosette (not that Marius knows her name yet, and doesn't throughout this whole volume). Still, six months passes without Marius seeing the girl on the bench, and she has become quite changed when next he sees her. 

Only, when he came close, it was certainly the same man but it seemed too him it was no longer the same girl. The person he now saw was a tall and beautiful creature with all the loveliest of womanly curves at that very moment when they are still combined with all the most artless of childish graces. A fleeting and innocent moment that can only be conveyed by these three words: fifteen years old. 
Which almost sounds a bit creepy to the modern reader. Although Marius is a young man and he soon falls in love with Cosette merely by sight. I was delighted that there was some hanky dropping as in The Three Musketeers. 

Most of the rest of the volume is Marius trying to find Cosette again after having become too obvious and drawing her father's attention, and the rather dramatic events in the Gorbeau tenement when  Jondrette lures his benefactor into an ambush. There is much beauty in Hugo's prose about poverty and the misery of the 19th century French human condition. 

Cities, like forests, have their dens, and inside them lurks whatever they have that is most savage and fearsome. Only, in cities, what lurks there is ferocious, foul and small, that is to say, ugly. In forests, what lurks there is ferocious, wild and big, that is to say, beautiful. Den for den, that of the beasts, is preferable to that of man. Caves are better than slums. 
The contrast between rich and poor. 
"Villain! Yes, I know that's what you call us, you rich folk! Well, it's true my business went bust, I'm in hiding, I've no food, I've no money, I'm a villain! I've not eaten for three days, I'm a villain! Ah! you lot keep your feet warm, you have shoes made by Sakoski, you have padded overcoats like archbishophs, you live on the first floor in houses with caretaker, you eat truffles, you eat asparagus at forty francs a bunch in the month of January, and green peas, you gorge yourselves, and when you want to know whether it's cold you look in the newspaper to see what Engineer Chevallier's thermometer says. We're our won thermometers, we are! We don't need to go down to the embankment and look on the corner of the Tour de l'Horloge to find out how many degrees below zero it is. We feel the blood freezing in our veins and the ice reaching into our hearts, and we say: "There is no God!" And you come into our dens, yes, our dens, and call us villains!"
I was surprised at one of the villains of the Patron-Minette gang was called Montparnasse, and wondered if the famous left bank region was named after a fictitious criminal, or indeed a real criminal. Although I can't find anything out there to suggest that this is the case. Wikipedia suggests that Montparnasse has been part of Paris since the 17th century, obviously long predating Victor Hugo. 

Also fascinating to see a direct reference to the les misérables of our title:

They seemed very depraved, very corrupt, very debased- heinous, even - but rare are those who fall without sinking into vice. In any case, there is a point where the poor and the wicked become mixed up and lumped together in the one fateful word: les misérables- the wretched.

And now onward and upward to Volume 4...

All quotes are from the 2013 Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, translated by Christine Donougher. 

Tuesday 11 December 2018

The Teacher's Pet

I finally caught up with The Teacher's Pet recently, having heard about it a lot this year, probably first on Chat 10 Looks 3. The Teacher's Pet is a podcast by Australian journalist Hedley Thomas. It has since been downloaded 29 million times, it won the Gold Walkley Award, Australia's highest journalism award. The podcast started in May this year, and focuses on the 1982 disappearance, and likely murder, of Lyn Dawson, a nurse, wife and mother, from the Northern Beaches of Sydney.

I think most Australians would have some memories of this case over time. I can't remember when I first heard about it, but I certainly did not know then all that I do now. It's just incredible that Lyn Dawson's disappearance was never investigated at the time. Incredible that 36 years have passed since she disappeared. Incredible that two coroners have recommended that her husband be tried for murder, but nothing ever happened.

Lyn Dawson disappeared, never to be heard from or seen again in January 1982. Her marriage had been under severe strain for months and years. Her husband had moved his teenage lover into their home under the guise of her being the babysitter for the couple's two young girls. Lyn was obviously aware of their relationship. She was aware that the babysitter was a high school student at the school where her husband taught PE at the time their relationship started.  She must have felt so much betrayal, hurt and anguish.

It's hard to talk about, or even think about, The Teacher's Pet as entertainment. It's obviously investigative at its focus, rather than pure entertainment. But I'm glad I listened to it. I'm really glad that I managed to time it so that I was most of the way through the podcast, about 10 or 11 episodes in, when Chris Dawson was finally arrested and charged with murder. It gave my listening a real push, just as it was all getting a bit too samey, and I hustled through to the end. The huge success of the podcast, and the timing of the arrest, can be no coincidence. I know the police  have been looking at the case again over the past few years, but an arrest after 36 years at the same time as the most intense public interest and pressure in the case?

There are issues with the sound quality in some episodes, and it does go over the same ground over and over again. The episodes become longer and longer as it goes along. For me it could have done with a bigger pruning. Like every one else who has listened to the podcast I will be very interested in the trial when it happens. I certainly hope that Lyn can be found now and laid to rest.

60 Minutes did a story this year on Lyn Dawson.

Australian Story The Teacher's Wife

Hedley Thomas talks about making the The Teacher's Pet on The Betoota Advocate.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

International Dublin Literary Award 2019 Longlist

I haven't been keeping up with booklists and award lists this year (there's a few things I haven't been keeping up with this year it seems), but then Lisa at ANZLitlovers alerted me to the 2019 International Dublin Literary Award Longlist. And I noticed that even I have read a few. Of course many more are on my TBR. I'm putting this Listmania list out there to help push shame me into picking up those books.
The New Animals by Pip Adam
Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
4321 by Paul Auster
Beartown / The Scandal by Fredrik Backman, translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith
Mrs Osmond by John Banville
The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Martha Batalha, translated from the Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker
A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume
The Trick by Emanuel Bergmann
The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet, translated from the French by Sam Taylor
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes by Bridget Canning
A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey
Marlborough Man by Alan Carter
Song of the Sun God by Shankari Chandran
Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang
Brother by David Chariandy
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman
The Last Beothuk by Gary Collins
Acts of Allegiance by Peter Cunningham
The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser
In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
Her by Garry Disher
Smile by Roddy Doyle
A Vineyard in Andalusia /The Vineyard by Maria Dueñas, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor & Lorenza García
Special Envoy by Jean Echenoz, translated from the French by Sam Taylor
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
American War by Omar El Akkad
Compass by Mathias Énard, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell
Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
Decline and Fall on Savage Street byFiona Farrell
First Person by Richard Flanagan
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán, translated from the Spanish by Will Vanderhyden
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Return to the Dark Valley by Santiago Gamboa, translated from the Spanish by Howard Curtis
Here in Berlin by Cristina Garcia
Dreams Beyond the Shore by Tamika Gibson
There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon
Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy
The Road to Shenzhen by Huang Guosheng
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
A House in Norway by Vigdis Hjorth, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund
The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by  Gail Honeyman (see my review)
Sleeps Standing Moetu by Witi Ithimaera, translated from Maori by Hemi Kelly
Darker by E.L. James
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Baby by Annaleese Jochems
First Snow, Last Light by Wayne Johnston
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce
Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfař
English Animals by Laura Kaye
You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the German by Ross Benjamin
Of Darkness by Josefine Klougart, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
The Harvest of Chronos by Mojca Kumerdej, translated from the Slovenian by Rawley Grau
Ferocity by Nicola Lagioia, translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar
The Choke by Sofie Laguna
A Poison Apple by Michel Laub, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
Pachinko by Jin Min Lee
The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis
Escape From Sunset Grove by Minna Lindgren, translated from the Finnish by Kristian London
The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis, translated from the French by Michael Lucey
The History of Bees by Maja Lunde, translated from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley
Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty (see my review)
The Temptation to be Happy by Lorenzo Marone, translated from the Italian by Shaun Whiteside
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney
Ithaca by Alan McMonagle
Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
The Forensic Records Society by Magnus Mills
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Muñoz Molina, translated from the Spanish by Camilo A. Ramirez
The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting, translated from the Norwegian by Paul Russell Garrett
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors, translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra
A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates
The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan
Mama’s Maze by Agnes Ong
Incredible Floridas by Stephen Orr
Heretics by Leonardo Padura, translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner
Uncertain Weights and Measures by Jocelyn Parr
Next Year, For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson
Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts
The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
The Death of the Perfect Sentence by Rein Raud, translated from the Estonian by Matthew Hyde
Through the Lonesome Dark by Paddy Richardson
White Bodies by Jane Robins
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney
To Die in Spring by Ralf Rothmann, translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Breathe by Beni Rusani
The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
The Bridge Troll Murders by Sheldon Russell
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Adua by Igiaba Scego, translated from the Italian by Jamie Richards
Tench by Inge Schilperoord, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer (currently stalled halfway, it's really short, maybe I should pick it up again)
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Fever Dream by Samantha Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Taboo by Kim Scott
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert
Kruso by Lutz Seiler, translated from the German by Tess Lewis
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
The Woman in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
House of Spies by Daniel Silva
To the Back of Beyond by Peter Stamm, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci, translated from the Finnish by David Hackston
The Necessary Angel by C.K. Stead
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.  by Neal Stephenson & Nicole Galland
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
Monte Carlo by Peter Terrin, translated from the Dutch by David Doherty
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (see my review)
Naondel ; the Red Abbey Chronicles by Maria Turtschaninoff, translated from the Swedish by A. A. Prime
Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan
They Know Not What They Do by Jussi Valtonen, translated from the Finnish by Kristian London
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
And Fire Came Down by Emma Viskic
Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Clear to the Horizon by Dave Warner
Girlcott by Florenz Webb Maxwell
The Consequences by Niña Weijers, translated from the Dutch by Hester Velmans
When the English Fall by David Williams
Tin Man by Sarah Winman
Lost in September by Kathleen Winter
The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
The Impossible Fairytale by Han Yujoo, translated from the Korean by Janet Hong
The Book of Joan by  Lidia Yuknavitch
The Image Interpreter by Zoran Živković, translated from the Serbian by Randall A. Major

Sunday 4 November 2018

The Art of Living Alone & Loving It

I don't live alone, but I will one day soon enough. Not a fate that I ever expected, or planned. But one day soon enough Master Wicker will fledge and leave the nest. And I will live alone. Actually it's just occurred to me (right now) that I have never lived alone! I've always had family, or flatmates. I've lived single, but never alone. Short stays in hotels for conferences probably doesn't count. Maybe this will be a bigger change than I had ever contemplated...

The Art of Living Alone & Loving It was one of those books that I picked up and bought the first time I ever saw it in a store. That was a few months ago, and in the past couple of weeks I got around to picking it up. I really enjoyed it. It's a good all round Self Help/Meditation of Life kind of book. The advice contained within could help anyone regardless of how many people are in the house on census night. 

Like most of us Jane Mathews didn't chose to live alone. She "fell into it post divorce - not with an elegant swan dive but a graceless belly flop." But she came to love the freedom and independence. We all want "a life brimming with opportunities and potential, lived in Technicolor, not black and white."

It's not all fun and games though this single lifestyle- living alone is a skill and requires some thought, effort and discipline Jane tells us. "It is always potentially trackpants o'clock." So how do I become a "frolicsome otter" swimming in my independent waters, revelling in every twist and turn?
Our lives are built choice by choice. 
The book is in chapters dealing with all the facts of life - relationships, health, home, finances, interests, spirituality and action, how to actually get things done. There is even a great chapter on Cooking for One- I want to try Cheat's Quesadillas now.... If only I could keep wraps and cheese in the house. Each chapter ends with a one page summary- the Take Aways. 

Chapter 2 Mental Strength and Shift is absolutely fabulous. There are 12 tools to help us be more resilient and tough. It is wise and universally applicable, not relevant just to those living alone. 

The grit in the oyster makes the pearl. 

Vitality, not happiness is the opposite of depression. 

The world is as you perceive it. 

Avoid developing a habit of discontent, which is an emotional cut de sac. 

Jane Mathews is a Barefoot Investor (see my review) fan, and so much of the advice in the finances chapter had a familiar theme. Which is fine, it's all rather sensible advice. I was a bit taken aback in this section when Jane pointed out that those living alone are more vulnerable financially and "We have to think twice about buying things we want but don't need. Every dollar spent now distances us a little from the life we want in the future." Well. Oops. Maybe I should have read that before the changes I've made in the last few months? No regrets though. 

Jane wants us all to live big lives, pushing the boundaries, experiencing new things, learning new things. To enjoy the abundance of time alone, because that's what everyone else wants more of!
Better to be alone than wish you were. 
The chapter on spirituality was the least appealing one to me. My internal landscape is rather barren I'm afraid. I'm quite happy to try new things, and trailing my fingers through the water sounds delightful, but I don't feel the need for oracle cards or to walk labyrinths anytime soon in this lifetime. I am half tempted to try meditation though. 

I love that Jane calls those living alone soloists! Such a strong, empowered word and image. Soloists are the fastest growing demographic. Two million Australians live alone. A quarter of all households. 
You will find you are as capable as you need to be.
I know that I'll reread this book whenever it comes my time to live with myself. 

RN Life Matters interview with Jane Mathews

Tuesday 30 October 2018

My Year (So Far) in Nonfiction

Nonfiction November is about to take over the world again. Here in the blog world it is hosted by Doing Dewey, Julz Reads, Sarah's Bookshelves, Sophisticated Dorkiness and What's Nonfiction?

I watch a lot of Booktube too now and Nonfiction November is on over there this month hosted by A Book Olive and Non Fic Books.

It's fair to say that I'm having a pretty bad reading year. I've only read 49 books so far this year. I didn't really read anything over the past three or four months. I'm starting to work my way out of this Great Reading Slump of 2018 it seems, but it's still slow going. 

Checking my Goodreads tally I see that I've read 14 nonfiction books so far this year. I've also had a slow blogging year so I haven't blogged most of these books, and it seems I haven't rated them on Goodreads either. 

I've really enjoyed most of those 14 Nonfiction books. 

Week 1 Your Year in Nonfiction hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness (one of my favourite blog names ever)

What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year (so far)?

I think it would actually be my most recent nonfiction read, The Art of Living Alone & Loving It (see my review). 

I also really enjoyed The Art of Frugal Hedonism (see my review). Oh they're both The Art of ...

And this one is just fun, but rather fascinating. I love junior nonfiction.

I'm almost finished up with the audiobook of Leigh Sales' Any Ordinary Day, which is fabulous and will get a high rating from me. So much to think about in this one. 

I'm more than happy that three of those four books are Australian. And by Australian Women Writers too. 

Do you have a particular topic you've been more attracted to this year?

I've been reading around my tag of Reconsidering My Life and a lot of my reads have touched on that in various ways. Books about ways of living, and also financial matters. 

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Probably The Trauma Cleaner (see my review). It has a lot broader appeal than my three favourites above. And it's Australian too!

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

A few things. This is my second year participating in Nonfiction November, but I really only dabbled my toes in the waters last year. This year I'm hoping it will spur me on to read some of the nonfiction waiting for me on my shelves. I've got a few on the go at the moment that I'd like to get finished too. I also want to blog about some of the books that I've already read this year. Of course I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else reads, and finding lots of interesting new books and blogs. 

Sunday 28 October 2018

Les Misérables - catching up May to June, in October

For some unaccountable reason I put Les Mis aside back in May, and didn't pick it up again until very recently. I really can't explain why. I have been in quite a reading slump this year, and for some time I haven't been "reading" as such, but predominantly listening to audiobooks. I've enjoyed these immensely but still couldn't find an urge to actually read. Anything. Even Les Mis. Then the October Dewey's Readathon was coming up and I knew that if I didn't somehow pick up Les Mis again that weekend I wouldn't finish it this year, and maybe I would never finish it at all. Ever. And I really want to finish it. 

I had been stalled at the start of V2B8C2 Fauchelevent Faces Difficulty. So I went back to the start of Book 8 and got reading. And what do you know? I loved it all over again. I read 53 pages of Les Mis in that 24 hours, not that much in reality, but still significant progress when I had made absolutely none since May and so I was happy. Since the readathon I've read another 88 pages and have now caught up to where I should have been on June 30. Yes, I'm  finally halfway through!

Here I'll post some musings from V2B8C1 toV3B4C6. Which covers quite a bit of territory. 

V2B8 has Jean Valjean and Cosette inside the convent but needing to get out so they can return legitimately through the front door. Much hilarity ensues in the cemetery with drunk gravediggers, and a close call for Jean Valjean. 
It is frightening to see a dead body, it is almost as frightening to see a resurrection. 
V2B8C10 Cloistered features a lengthy section, three pages of Hugo brilliance comparing the lives of prisoners and nuns. "Now, after the prison hulks, he saw the cloister."
These human beings, too, lived with their heads shorn, their eyes downcast, their voices lowered, not in disgrace but amid the world's jeering, not with their backs bruised by the rod but with their shoulders lacerated by self-mortification. Their names, too, had died among men. They now existed only under an austere nomenclature. They never ate meat and they never drank wine. They often went without food until evening. They were dressed not in red tunics but in black woollen shrouds, heavy in summer, light in winter, unable to take anything off or to put on anything extra, without even the possibility, according to season, of thinner clothing or a woollen overcoat. 
Two places of slavery, but in the first, the possibility of being freed, a legal term always in sight, and even escape; in the second place a life sentence to be served, the only hope in the far distant future that glimmer of freedom men call death. 
In the first the enslaved were fettered only by chains, in the other they were fettered by their faith.  
I'm so thrilled to get to Book 3 Marius. As A) I've finally made it out of Book 2 after being stalled there for so many months and into Book 3. And B) I get to learn much more about Marius (and Gavroche it seems). A lot of this detail and plot line doesn't make it into the movie and stage versions, so I'm not familiar with it. Firstly we meet Marius' grandfather, and then his father, and discover the terrible relationship forced on them by Monsieur Gillenormand. 
Twice a year, on the first of January and on St George's Day, Marius wrote dutiful letters to his father, dictated by his aunt, that read as if they had been copied from some primer. This was all that Monsieur Gillenormand would allow. And the father replied with very loving letters that the grandfather stuffed into his pocket unread. 
Of course Marius discovers the truth, but all too late, just after his father has died. This leads to an undoing of a relationship between Grandfather and Grandson, not so coincidentally the name of Volume 3 Book 3. Marius is thrown out of the house, never to be spoken of again. Although Monsieur Gillenormand tells his daughter to send Marius six hundred francs every six months, so he is not quite cast adrift financially. 

I particularly enjoyed V3B4C1 A Group That Came Close to Becoming Historic. Here we are formally introduced to Marius' friends. Enjolras. Combeferre. Jean Prouvaire. Feuilly. Courfeyrac. Bahorel. Lesgle (Bossuet). Joly. Grantaire. Of these the only names that I have picked up from the stage shows and movie are Enjolras and Combeferre, but I certainly don't have any significant understanding of either. We are treated to more lovely imagery from Hugo. 
Enjolras was a leader, Combeferre was a guide. You would have wanted to fight with one and march with the other. It is not that Combeferre was not capable of fighting. He not unwilling to grapple with any obstacle and tackle it by direct force and explosive power. But making the human race gradually conform to its destiny through the teaching of basic principles and the implementation of practical laws was more to his liking. And between the two types of brightness he was inclined to favour illumination over conflagration. A fire can certainly create a glow, but why not wait for daybreak? A volcano gives light, but dawn gives even better light. 
I do wish that I could grasp even 1/5 of his references. Historical, classical, any of it. How much it would add to my reading. 
There are men who seemingly are born to be the verso, the inverse, the reverse. They are Pollux, Patroclus, Nisus, Eudamidas, Hephaestion, Pechméja.
How much better informed, read and educated the 19th century French reader must have been. Early on, before I stalled in May, I was looking up each and every unknown name or reference in the Notes at the back. Now I need to read quicker, to try and catch up so am skimming over these clues laid for the reader by Victor Hugo. 

V3B4C4 The Back Room of Café Musain contains the drunken ramblings of Grantaire. I was fascinated to learn that "Charles II knighted a Sir Loin". Sirloin. Really? Although it seems that this has been attributed to most British monarchs at some stage or other. And of course any brief mention of Charles II brings me back such happy memories. 

And now I've really made it to June 30! I'm halfway!!! Onward and upward into July.

I tweeted a few quotes back during readathon. And now I've worked out how to put a tweet in a post! It's a technological breakthrough for me.