The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – Victor Hugo

07 Mar


In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her that only Quasimodo can prevent. Victor Hugo’s sensational, evocative novel brings life to the medieval Paris he loved, and mourns its passing in one of the greatest historical romances of the nineteenth century.

Like Frankenstein and Dracula, this is a book that has entered the public consciousness and doesn’t need to be read to know the story…Disney has a lot to answer for with its rendering of Hugo’s classic.

Set in Paris in 1482, the journey Hugo takes us along is one of powerful raw emotions: love, hate, prejudice, revenge, lust, redemption and vanity and that is just to scratch the surface.  The powerful nature of the many conflicting aspects of human nature allow the reader to recognise the best and worst of humanity, which makes for a riveting read, it really is drama at its purest.

There is so much content crammed into the story, it’s not a pure narrative of events but sprawling with plenty of lavish and lengthy digressions of rich architectural detail, which will either infuriate or captivate.  If great masses of prose describing the details of buildings put you off then skipping them to keep the story flowing is still extremely worthwhile but for me the extra details just build up the rich world that the characters live in.  It adds to the world, it paints a picture of the time and place and makes for a more rounded reading experience.

Hugo likes to spin many ideas, although this is a grim book focussing plentifully on the seedy underworld of Paris, Tragedy with a capital T, is unequivocally the main player, he offsets this with some wonderful comedy sequences which helps one cope with the unrelenting cruelty that occupies the main players’ life.  So don’t expect many happy endings but prepare for a tale in which the characters are human, they have their faults and endure as best they can.  Whether innocent or corrupt, the characters have so much more to them than meets the eye with metaphors and themes swirling throughout the book and adding even more depth for those wishing to dwell on human nature.

After a slow opening in which I felt I had to grind out the first few chapters, the wealth of writing talent is clear for all to see with the complex tapestry of intertwining tales.  The structure is as complex as the author’s beloved cathedral. The ending is a perfectly counterweighted with a fantastic finale that flies along and is as thrilling as it is satisfying.

Whilst this truly does deserve the title of a Classic, it isn’t without its faults. A slow start and timely digressions aside, there are a few things that took me out of the world created.  Most notably would be one of the ‘coincidences’ that I felt was just a little bit to much of a reach and some of the mysteries were revealed a bit to soon…I love a bit of tension and would have been happy to remain in the dark for a little while longer.  On reflection these mysteries are not to difficult for the reader to work out but it would have been so much more effective to reveal towards the ending when so much was coming to a head.

Minor quibbles aside, it’s a great read, if slightly to ponderous in places.  It’s still well worth your time and effort to read.


Posted by on 07/03/2014 in Classics


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19 responses to “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – Victor Hugo

  1. Al

    07/03/2014 at 20:38

    It sounds interesting, and as I have just finished reading one book I found hard-going albeit for a different reason, I think I will read something a bit livelier like A Clash of Kings. A classic like that will be a ways in the future for me 🙂 The fact that he describes so much makes it a worthy read from the sounds of it


    • Ste J

      08/03/2014 at 15:58

      It is an epic book in every sense, I remember reading two deeply fascinating books one after another and being exhausted at the end of it. Something easier or livelier is definitely a good way to go to stop from getting a bit book lethargic.


      • Al

        08/03/2014 at 17:46

        Yes, when you have read one you really didn’t want to carry on with, I wanted to read one I knew I wanted to read.


  2. quirkybooks

    07/03/2014 at 21:49

    Thanks for this review Ste. I have shared it on my page. It’s interesting that you think some of the mysteries are revealed too soon.


    • Ste J

      08/03/2014 at 15:59

      Thank you very much! I wonder if the author serialised his book and revealed them not expecting it to carry on so long until the public demanded more…it’ll be a very interesting thing to find out about.


      • quirkybooks

        08/03/2014 at 23:25

        I never thought of that, you could be right. Let me know if you discover it to be true.


  3. gargoylebruce

    08/03/2014 at 06:26

    It also performed a great service by raising public awareness of spinal injuries in the bell-ringing population, thus leading to the coining of the term BBQ, which originally stood for Bong Bells for Quasimodo, a charity bell-ringing competition to raise funds for Quasimodo’s medical expenses and retirement. How’s that for a rambling (and totally fabricated) digression?


    • Ste J

      08/03/2014 at 16:01

      I checked this out and it appears legit so I will ignore your double bluff at the end about fabrication…I enjoyed the charity tabards that they were wearing in the 1400’s. They knew how to do a charity campaign then…all we had over here was someone sitting in a bath full of turnips…it was rubbish according to my history books.


      • gargoylebruce

        09/03/2014 at 01:40

        …which, interestingly enough, led to the great turnip famine of the time. It’s less well known than the Potato famine, because it was less politically charged, and of course, because of later developments in medical science that brought about relief for sufferers of spinal curvature, rendering such fund-raising brilliance as was seen in the 1400s redundant.


  4. evermoreevil

    08/03/2014 at 10:39

    This is something I must pick up at some point. It sounds like a fantastic read from the way you describe it, and I do love vivid descriptions of buildings and scenery. Great post, sir!


    • Ste J

      08/03/2014 at 15:55

      It can be a challenge but it’s very satisfying to complete it and reflect on a multi layered book of some majesty. I find myself quite enjoying French literature these days.


  5. Elizabeth Melton Parsons

    08/03/2014 at 20:15

    The best way to read this book is slowly. We with our busy lives more often that not will put away a book that moves at a more leisurely pace. We want fast moving books to finish and move on to the next. I too am guilty of this. But since I may be reading two or more books at a time, I will sometimes read one like this at just a few pages or a chapter a day to be savored while gorging myself on lighter fare. That way I can enjoy even the plodding bits. Great review. 🙂


    • Ste J

      09/03/2014 at 18:42

      I had the leisurely pace problem with Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, it is sometimes difficult to get back into the mind sets of yester century. I am tackling A book of Dickens’ essays in the same manner of a few at a time and reading some books authors have sent me as well…it is great to mix it up. I do struggle with more than two books at a time though.


  6. Christina ~

    08/03/2014 at 23:04

    An awesomely enticing review …as always! Filled with a plethora of decadent phrases such as “complex tapestry of intertwining tales” and too many more to quote you…to you! This is on my TBR list for sure…as are 99.5% of the books you review/recommend. You really should be paid for spreading the book love…both in classics and modern literature as well! In my humble opinion anyway….


    • Ste J

      09/03/2014 at 17:37

      If only I could get my foot in the door, I shall keep trying, I am feeling positive about getting to the next level as you know. I knew this would be one you would like…I know you were looking at Les Mis in the bookshops and that is definitely one I want to pick up now I have read this…both would look good together of course! I like to throw in my fair share of ‘decadent phrases’ as you put it, for your pleasure.


  7. LuAnn

    09/03/2014 at 12:38

    I hadn’t read this in years and I found your thoughts on it to be quite interesting. I may just have to go back and review it once again.


    • Ste J

      09/03/2014 at 18:38

      Please do, it is a cracking book and one that is deserving of a reread!


  8. Letizia

    10/03/2014 at 21:40

    Loved reading your review, as always. I’m not a fan of Hugo’s work, although I can appreciate his talent (at times). Your review was pretty spot on though (but when isn’t it?).


    • Ste J

      11/03/2014 at 19:20

      I am unsure whether I should be excited for Les Mis or live in trepidation at the possibly even longer digressions…I like a challenge though. I’m glad my accuracy is indeed accurate, otherwise you would probably get me under the trade’s description act and that would be a shame.



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