Book Rant: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame-book-coverBOOK RATING: 75%

GENRE: Classic, gothic fiction

Hello all! I just finished The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. I decided to read this because I loved the Disney movie as a kid, Esmeralda was such a strong character compared to all the other Disney Princesses. She didn’t need a guy, she could hold her own. The book is incredibly different, it’s much, much darker but it’s still a really great story with great characters. If you have never heard of this story, Quasimodo is a hunchback who is the bell ringer of Notre Dame in Paris in the 15th century. La Esmeralda is a 16-year-old gypsy girl who dances for coins in the street. Quasimodo’s master, Dom Claude Frollo the archdeacon of Notre Dame, falls for Esmerelda’s enchanting beauty and has Quasimodo try to kidnap her. Phoebus steps in to save her and Esmerelda then in turn falls in love with him. Meanwhile and unfortunate poet, Pierre Gringoire, stumbles into the gypsies section of town known as the Cour Des Miracles (Court of Miracles) and is going to be hung but Esmerelda steps forward and offers to take Gringoire as her husband to save his life. These four story lines entwine together through out the book. This book, is really, really SLOW! The story is great, it just is painfully slow. I bought it on my iPad because I can never find classics at the library. Which is weird, you would think that’s where they would be easiest to find. Anyway on my iPad it was 573 pages and it did not need to be that.  Spoilers beyond this point.

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I struggle with most classics because they are so terribly slow moving. They provide so many details that I don’t need! I love description but I don’t need 1 chapter describing Notre Dame and her history and then 2 more telling me the name of every architect, of every structure in every section of Paris and then going on to tell me how it has changed over time. I don’t need 70 pages for that! You could have over-viewed it in 2 or 3! The story itself was fabulous, when we weren’t going on these side rambles about totally irrelevant information. I don’t need to know about this history of the police force, it’s not relevant. I would end up skimming chapters at a time until it would say “now back to Notre Dame” or “now back to our tale”. It says countless times “Now I don’t need to tell the reader that such and such is a thing” and then it would go on to describe what it was it just said it didn’t need to tell us FOR PAGES! It must have been the writing style of the time because I have had this problem a lot with classics, I love the story, but we are only hearing the story 1/3 of the time.

I have to admit I preferred the Disney movie. I loved Esmerelda because she was this sassy girl who’s life was based around this theory of “my life is tough, but I can deal. Lots of people have it worse then I do.” And that made her so confident and independent and strong but she also wasn’t so proud that she wouldn’t accept help and then she’d help people in return and that’s why I adored her character. In the book, this spirit comes out occasionally (especially at he beginning) but mostly Esmerelda’s weak. I get it, her life sucks, she almost kidnapped then almost gets raped twice and then she in prison and almost gets hung. That’s not a good time and I pity her character a lot. But she never fights back at all which is what I had grown to expect from her character. The way she’s written she sounds like a child but 16 isn’t a child. She’s by no means grown up, but she’s not the child she’s made out to be. It might have been the time period that this was written in though because women weren’t supposed to be strong. The other thing about Esmerelda that really irked me was the fact that she wasn’t nice to Quasimodo. He terrified her and she avoided him because he was ugly and then when he didn’t bring back Phoebus she got really mad at him. I got so frustrated with her because he saved her life and she was acting like a spoiled brat.

Let’s talk about Pierre Gringoire, the struggling poet/philosopher. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to feel about his character, but he’s a coward and I hate him. I have no sympathy for him. He has a line near the end that I found so ironic that I have to include it,  “”Such is life […] ’tis often out best friends who cause us to be overthrown.”” He’s talking about Djali but this is when he is unknowingly leading Esmerelda to her death and when an opportunity arises for him to save her, he leaves and takes Djali. I hated him so much at the moment. Esmerelda blindly trusts him and he owes her his life and the stupid goat would have been fine. She should have let he be killed. The fact that at the end we learn that he turn out to be a success is so unfair and it made me so mad! I know I ranted for a paragraph about Esmerelda and how she bugged me but she still didn’t deserve all the crap she had to go through.

Now Quasimodo he is such a sweet character, he’s a mockingbird if I may borrow the metaphor from Harper Lee. He really the “good guy” in the story. He loves Esmerelda and he helps her even though she ignores him and thinks he’s hideous. The ending when he pushes Frollo over the railing it as so perfect that he didn’t even look down at him. It really was a moment where the positions were reversed. Just as Frollo had refused to look down and help him, Quasimodo returning the favour. Frollo and Phoebus were really impressive in the sense that given the context of the book they could have seemed like the same character but Victor Hugo gave them really separate personalities and I haven’t decided which one of them I hated more. I go back and forth. One of the really sad bits in the book was with Esmerelda and her mother (Sister Gudule), they had just found each other again and they got so close to escaping. The way her mother was trying to defend her with such self disregard was so touching and I was in tears. Those soldiers, I know they have orders but they were so merciless and inhuman.

If you think about it this entire tragic book was because of one man’s lust and a bunch of misunderstandings. There is another quote in this book that I really loved because it summed up the entire novel perfectly. It appears during the annoying, long-winded, slightly useless ramble about architecture and specifically how art is fading from our world because of modern technologies. And this book was written in 1831 and it’s referring to printed books but even today you could relate this quote to the loss of art in our culture. (If you were much more pessimistic to man-kind in general, but I’d rather not go that far.) The quote is “It is the setting sun which we mistake for the dawn.” So perfectly encompasses this tragic novel. Whenever you think the dawn must be coming and it’s getting better you discover that it’s really dusk and everything is fading more deeply into the shadows. I thought it was absolutely beautiful.

Ok that is all I can think of. This book only got 75% because although the story was fabulous, it was so slow I could get into it as well as I would have liked. Bye guys, kisses!

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4 Comments

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