Review: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame


Title: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
Author: Victor Hugo
Publication: 2010 by Signet Classics
Format: Paperback

Book Synopsis

This extraordinary historical novel, set in Medieval Paris under the twin towers of its greatest structure and supreme symbol, the cathedral of Notre-Dame, is the haunting drama of Quasimodo, the hunchback; Esmeralda, the gypsy dancer; and Claude Frollo, the priest tortured by the specter of his own damnation. Shaped by a profound sense of tragic irony, it is a work that gives full play to Victor Hugo’s brilliant historical imagination and his remarkable powers of description.

What I Thought About It . . .
This has been one of those books that I’ve always meant to read, but never gotten around to. So when I was looking for something new at Borders I decided to expand my classics library. While browsing the shelves I found a cheap mass market paperback edition and figured that I could take my time reading it. Sometimes the due date for library check-outs hinders me in my reading.

To be honest I had this book sitting on the shelf for the longest time when I’d barely gotten 90 pages into it. The first 100 pages are pretty dull, in my opinion. I had more engaging books to read, but then I decided to get back into it since it was part of a couple reading challenges that I was taking part in this year. Is it very odd of me to find the story pick up when Hugo begins describing the architecture of Notre-Dame cathedral and the geographic layout of the city of Paris…? And why was this not placed at the beginning of the novel? Yet the plot failed to captivate, in my opinion, until about the middle of the book. A friend didn’t like it because of all the description and historic references, but I liked those details.

I do like the character of Claude Frollo. Very interesting! Naturally I’ve been spoiled by the Disney animated film that portrays him as a straight-up villain, but the original source material shows him as a complex person. He tries to do what is right be studying in the endless pursuit of knowledge, but then he spoils his baby brother only to discover what a penniless libertine the boy becomes. Quasimodo becomes another surrogate child, but he grows up how I think Frollo would have liked his brother to turn out, at least in some respects. A comedian might also say that this is the reason priests should not take vows of chastity because they might seek to destroy what they love to prevent anyone else from having it in fits of misguided passion.

The ending I have known of many years prior to reading this book, thanks to a spoiler line in the Hallmark Hall of Fame version of The Secret Garden. And a friend felt the need to spoil other things of irony for me. Since Phoebus has the most tragic ending of all, he deserves it. But the final paragraph of the closing chapter? Could this be any more depressing? I of all people like tragedies, but even this makes me morose. And yet it is perhaps one of my favorite parts of the entire book.

Overall I would admit that I wished I could say I enjoyed it more, but to be truthful I do not. I failed to click with this book…

MY RATING

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