1359 pages. 1359 pages!!! I don’t know what the frak I was thinking when I took this book on. Or rather, I do know what I was thinking and now I have come around to believe that this was some kind of book fever insanity. After CBR7’s breakneck pace and 230 reviews, I took a break and thought about what I wanted to do with my CBR8. Last years’ accomplishment went way beyond my original plan to simply step out of my comfort zone and read new genres and new authors, then actually try to write about them. I felt like I could use this year to tackle some of the big books I passed over last year (and to be truthful, years before) for expediency’s sake. I may not look like it, but I am built for speed. Marathons have never interested me and I thought it was time to change that. Then I spied this two-and-a-half pound behemoth at the bookstore.
This book was serialized in the Journal des Debats from June of 1842 through October of 1843. Partly inspired by Eugene Francois Vidocq’s Memoirs and the Natty Bumppo adventures by James Fenimore Cooper, it pairs big ideas about social reform with good old fashioned sensationalism. The mysterious Rodolphe, who easily moves through all strata of society, slips into the Cite, that seething amalgamation of crime and abject poverty. He first encounters The Slasher and The Songbird, whom he ends up helping out of their horrific circumstances, while running afoul of the evil Schoolmaster and his accomplice, The Owl.And that’s just the beginning. As the story gallops on, we learn Rodolphe is actually a prince from some (fictitious) German kingdom and with the help of his loyal friend Murph and the doctor David, a former slave, he sets about bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots on a very personal level.
While the writing was indeed absorbing, I am afraid that I hit sensory overload on these characters and their circumstances. (1359 pages!!!)I can certainly see that in serial form it would be satisfying, the tension maintained partly by the simple passage of time. Spending a lot of concentrated time in this world got a bit tiresome for me, undercutting the power of its ideas.
Still, I am glad I tackled this mighty tome, now in a new translation by Carolyn Betensky and Jonathan Loesberg for Penguin Classics. At the very least, it’s led me to order the new translation of Vidocq’s memoirs (for kindle at only .99!)