Battle of the Bricks

Last year I decided to read War and Peace for the first time. Although Tolstoy’s powers of psychological observation are amazing, I got stuck about halfway through (during a lengthy description of a fox hunt), and since then I haven’t really been able to get back into it. It didn’t help that none of the characters appealed to me strongly, perhaps because so many of them exhibit high levels of pretentiousness or self-deception – or both! Yes, 635 pages is a large investment of time, but getting from there to page 1386 feels like a tough slog and I’m not sure I have the energy.

By contrast, before a recent trip I was looking for a book to read, so I decided to pick up Julie Rose’s translation of Les Misérables. At 1194 pages this is far from a slim volume, but I have every confidence of finishing it. Granted, I’ve read Hugo’s masterpiece three or four times in another translation, so the story line is familiar. Yet I find myself delighted anew with Hugo’s characters and scenes, even with his historical and philosophical digressions (which, I realize, are an acquired taste). The pages are flying by!

It’s fascinating that one’s patience with and appreciation of a writer can be so personal. I suppose the same goes for friends and other people in one’s life. Indeed, Hugo himself makes the connection on page 138: “books are remote but reliable friends.” I almost included Les Misérables in my recent list of best friend books; revisiting this old friend makes me certain that it needs to be on the list.

6 thoughts on “Battle of the Bricks

  1. Hey Peter, I had the same experience with Anna Karenina…I lost my paperback half way through and never bought a new copy. Same problems, great story, but I didn’t really connect with the characters. (I do know how it ends…)


    1. Hi Stephen, thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve read a few of Tolstoy’s shorter works (Ivan Ilyich, Hadji Murad) and enjoyed them – well, as much as you can enjoy the former! Plus, Tolstoy’s insights into people are amazing. But life might be too short to slog through books that don’t speak to you, eh?


    1. Thanks for the note. If I recall correctly the musical isn’t exactly close to the book, but I suppose that’d be impossible anyway given the scope of the novel. I’ll be seeing the musical again soon, so perhaps I’ll provide a report on the differences that I perceive…


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