December 18th, 2011


Book Review: Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), by Victor Hugo

A historical epic of medieval Paris, it's really a gothic fantasy, and it's not really about Quasimodo and Esmeralda.

Notre-Dame de Paris

First published (in French) in 1831.

English translation by Isabel F. Hapgood published in 1881. Approx. 185,000 words. Available for free at Project Gutenberg.

Set amid the riot, intrigue, and pageantry of medieval Paris, Victor Hugo's masterful tale of heroism and adventure has been a perennial favorite since its first publication in 1831. It is the story of Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer of the Notre Dame Cathedral, who falls in love with the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda. When Esmeralda is condemned as a witch by Claude Frollo, the tormented archdeacon who lusts after her, Quasimodo attempts to save her; but his intentions are misunderstood. Written with a profound sense of tragic irony, Hugo's powerful historical romance remains one of the most thrilling stories of all time.

Collapse )

Verdict: This book is why you should read classics, and why some books are worth a bit of persistence even if they don't grab you right away. I was expecting it to be a slog to get through Notre-Dame de Paris, and at first it was, but gradually it became more interesting, I began to appreciate both the epic scope of the story Victor Hugo had been building piece by piece, and also the sense of humor he'd been wryly displaying all along. No matter which film version you've seen, you have not gotten anything like the story of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" unless you've read Victor Hugo's novel in its entirety, and it absolutely deserves to be read, and to be on the list of 1001 books you must read before you die. I liked it so much that I was actually motivated to add Hugo's other big novel, Les Misérables, to my TBR list.

This was my twelfth assignment for the books1001 challenge.