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Book 140: "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" by Victor Hugo


Title: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Author: Victor Hugo
Publisher: Smithmark Publishers 1981 edition
Read in: Hardcover
Genre: Classic, Victorian/Gothic Literature

This book has been on my "to-read" list for a very long time; I'm glad that it isn't any longer. I did not love or hate this book. There are some things I really enjoy about it and others that I despise. Overall, I find myself underwhelmed. I have two words to describe the vast majority of this book: depressing and tedious.

My biggest problem with the book is the author, Victor Hugo. Hugo decides, quite often, to take the reader off on tangents that are completely unrelated to the story. I have to admit, I quickly began skipping these sections entirely; they were not only irrelevant, but incredibly boring. Hugo, as narrator, also has a very condescending tone; he is obviously assuming that his readers are all far less intelligent than he.

My next main issue with this story is the characters. The vast majority of whom are really rather impossible to like. And, just as you think they may redeem themselves, they make you hate them again. Frollo is mostly just selfish and slightly crazy... until he turns rapist and blackmailer, making him truly terrible. Pheobus is a shallow, self-obsessed man-whore. La Esmeralda is a naive, flaky, shallow idiot. Gringoire is a pompous scholar that cares only for his own self preservation so he can "grant" the world his masterpieces of philosophy, poetry, etc. Jehan (Frollo's younger brother) is a philandering liar. Then there are quite a few side characters who are equally terrible. It it truly impossible to feel badly for these people; they get what's coming to them.

There are only three characters I kind of liked and two of them aren't even people. Quasimodo starts out not all that likable. However, he is the only character that ends up redeeming himself. His situation is understandable given the life he's led; the reader basically ends up wishing that he, especially, had fallen for a woman that was much more worthy than La Esmeralda. Djali, La Esmeralda's goat, is adorable and awesome. The last character is wholly inanimate, but a true character of the book, Notre Dame. The book brings this cathedral to life and it mimics the heart of Quasimodo- the two are joined throughout the narrative.

The book's only real saving grace is the storytelling, when Hugo bothers to tell it. The story is written beautifully. He excels in description and placing the reader in the scene.  It is heart-wrenching and truly tragic.

The only question left is: How did anyone at Disney read this book and think, This would be great children's movie?


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