Allie (cosmicautumn) wrote in prouvaire,

The Temptation of the Impossible

I don't know if anyone has heard of this new book. Here's a selection from a review in the LA Times:
    ALTHOUGH books about other books abound, there are very few that actually tell us what it is like to read. "The Temptation of the Impossible," Mario Vargas Llosa's book about Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables," is one of these rare confessions. Perhaps because Vargas Llosa is himself an author, a Peruvian rival of the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, he has the confidence to tell us that his comprehension is sometimes stretched, his attention fluctuates and that when he closes his eyes, only a few memorable scenes from a novel appear before them.

Vargas Llosa calls these hotspots "active craters." In Hugo's epic novel, he picks out the scene in the Paris sewers as the ex-convict Jean Valjean emerges with Marius on his shoulders and also the epic battle on the barricade at La Chanvrerie, in which the street urchin Gavroche dies and Valjean saves the life of Javert, the relentless policeman. The scenes' vitality "flows from them and expands in time and space"; they "dominate the vast landscape of 'Les Misérables.' " The vastness of that landscape, at about 1,200 pages in translation, cannot be ignored. Vargas Llosa admits that the story has a "slow pace," but he makes a good apology for it. Were the story not so long, he writes, it would not be as powerful: "Quantity is one of the ingredients in the quality of a novel."

Link to article

From the book's introduction:

The winter in the boarding school of the Leoncio Prado Military College in Lima that year, 1950, was damp and gray, the routine was numbingly boring, and my life was rather unhappy. The adventures of Jean Valjean, the bloodhound obstinacy of Javert, the warmth of Gavroche, and the heroism of Enjolras blotted out the hostility of the world, turning my depression into enthusiasm during those hours of reading stolen from classes and military training, and transporting me to a world blazing with extreme misfortune, love, courage, happiness, and vile deeds. Revolution, sanctity, sacrifice, prison, crime, men who were supermen, women who were virgins or whores, saintly or wicked, a whole cast of characters shaped by theatricality, euphony, and metaphor. It was a great place to take refuge; this splendid fictional life gave one strength to put up with real life. But the treasures of literature also made real reality seem more impoverished.

Who was Victor Hugo? Having spent the last two years totally immersed in his books and in his time, I now know that I will never know. Jean-Marc Hovasse, the most meticulous of his biographers to date—his biography is, as yet, unfinished—has calculated that a passionate bibliographer of the romantic bard, reading fourteen hours a day, would take twenty years just to read all the books dedicated to the author of Les Misérables that can be found in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Because, after Shakespeare, Victor Hugo has generated across five continents more literary studies, philological analyses, critical editions, biographies, translations, and adaptations of his work than any other Western author.

Link to rest of introduction


Sounds like an interesting book. I'll post if I can track down a copy. You can buy it off of amazon.

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