The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A story with the potential to reel the readers in, but did not exactly hit the mark. I have very little knowledge of 'The Hunchback of Notre-Dame' although I am well aware of the named author, Victor Hugo. There is no doubt in my mind that he is a talented and prolific writer. He uses his words as a paintbrush, describing the city like a bird that soars through the air to take in its surroundings. He does not write in a poetic way, but he does describe the scenery with such descriptiveness that the reader feels like they are in the hollowed gloom of Notre Dame.
The story centers around a few characters, each with their own designs in life and want to make the most of their opportunities in France. The focal point is the looming tower of Notre Dame, its figure head emits throughout the city like a God high up in the sky. In the dark dwelling of its hollowed abyss is a decrepit, limping monster-like creature named "Quasimodo." he is known as one of the central characters, the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The origins of his Quasimodo comes in little snippets throughout the novel, making him a mystery to both the characters of the book and the readers alike. I came into the novel with a clear expectation that he would be the central character, but I was terribly wrong. Over time the readers becomes acquainted with other members of the Cathedral, both the glorious noble and the helpless fallen. I had taken an interest in the Priest, the Archdeacon Claude Frollo, mostly because he appeared to be a haunted man, torn between his loyalty to the church and his desire to learn more of the sciences. His secret dabbling in alchemy and possibly sorcery adds a certain element of Gothic notary that is prevalent in this genre.
The person that stole the show is a young woman, a Bohemian Gypsy, which naturally steals the heart of many characters in the film. Her name is Esmeralda. She takes on the stereotypical characteristics of that time period for "Gypsies." She is young, beautiful, enchanting and feared by God-fearing men. She is like a ray of starlight, dancing effortlessly in the street, which unfortunately spells disaster for her in the end.
I confess that I spent a good portion of this novel skimming through the pages. Reading the full-length novel on an e-book was a mistake, and it is one that I would not recommend to others. The author has a talent of creating memorable characters, but the long-extended descriptiveness of the city streets, the history of the cathedral and the features of the poverty-stricken people lost my interest. I found most of my attention was fixated on Esmeralda and her devoted goat. To me it screamed witchcraft, so I was not surprised when others whispered those very words in the dark alleyways of Paris.
I can comprehend the reasoning for this novel to be listed as Gothic romance. It is dark to be sure, it has elements of the supernatural, the grotesque, and the disfiguration of the soul of man. I suppose most readers would have imagined that it is the most blackhearted villain would be the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but they are terribly wrong. Beauty is held in the eye of the beholder, and in the case of this novel it is especially true. Although I did not finish the book in its entirety, I can understand the reason it is proclaimed as a masterful piece. The author does have a natural art of drawing the reader in, but for myself, I found it burdensome to read and at long last I gave up on the adventure.
For those readers that enjoy a good dark tale with seedy characters scuttling down dark alleyways and tightly enclosed abbey's then this is the book for you. If you love anything involving "Gypsies" or a great grizzly tale of love and despair, I can assure you that this is the ideal novel for you. As to my parting words, if I want to read a book about a "Holy man" losing his sanity over a beautiful woman that he can never be with because of his sacred vows to the Church, I would rather read the deliciously sinful and exceptionally Gothic horror story 'The Monk' by Matthew Gregory Lewis.
I will leave this book review with my favourite quote from this book, coming from none other but the deeply despaired and undeniably lusty Priest. The prisoner recoiled with horror. “Oh!” said the priest, “young girl, have pity upon me! You think yourself unhappy; alas! alas! you know not what unhappiness is. Oh! to love a woman! to be a priest!"
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