Tag Archives: novel

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables by David Bellos

Title: The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables
Author: David Bellos
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374223236
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books about Books, Literary Criticism
Pages: 307
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars


I love books about books. There is something magical about them that cannot be ignored, say what you will. Books talking about books is almost surreal – not even meta, it is just something that makes you want to pick up the books that are being spoken about and reread them or read them if you haven’t already. This is what happened to me when I finished reading “The Novel of the Century” by David Bellos.

This book is about Les Misérables and how it came to be. I remember watching Les Misérables – the movie when it released (the one starring Anne Hathaway) and crying. I couldn’t get enough of it and surprisingly I hadn’t read the book. I had to change that. I did read the book soon after and was mesmerised by it. I mean the characters – Inspector Jarvet, Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette and even the minor ones that play such an important role in this book of power, politics and love. I can see how it came to one of the greatest novels of the 19th century or the greatest, I think.

David Bellos takes a leap and writes about this book. How did it come to me? Why was it written? What was Victor Hugo thinking when he wrote this? How did he come about such characters? What Bellos also does is explain why this novel fascinates us (most of us at least) and how it places itself so beautifully in the modern context. To me, that was the most favourite parts in the book.

Bellos’ research is spot on. I was reading a lot about the book and the times in which it was set while reading The Novel of the Century and that to me is the best thing an author can do to you while he is writing about another book. The writing then is truly powerful. This is also not a biography of Victor Hugo but of course it has to trace his life briefly and how he came to write Les Mis. The angle of prostitution in those times, religion playing such a major role and also just how women survived is fascinating when Bellos brings it to the fore.

“The Novel of the Century” isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. It is for people who love Les Misérables or perhaps want to really read it sometime in the future. Having said that, I couldn’t get enough of Bellos’s writing – crisp, to the point and very meticulous with his research. At times, I almost felt like I was watching the movie or reading the book again. The characters I went back to welcomed me back and I for one felt so nice meeting them after all these years. A book for book lovers and of course of the classic as well.

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

I remember when I first read an Atwood. It started with “The Handmaid’s Tale” back when I was in college and I was floored. I was going through a phase of angst and Ms. Atwood somehow added to it in a big way. At that tiime, only two writers mattered the most to be – Ayn Rand and Margaret Atwood. May be George Orwell as well – however that came second close to Atwood. “The Blind Assassin” further affirmed my belief in the writer and her powers. She writes with a vengeance and how – not that she chooses to (I assume), however words flow freely for this writer and only end up captivating her readers to the very core.

Moral Disorder is a collection of 11 stories by Ms. Atwood. Each one stands alone and towards the end the reader is left gaping – as the stories converge and stand alone as a novel – the character of a woman, which is a first-rate character study.

All stories deal with the life of one woman – Nell, who is a stereotypical everyday “Canadian” woman. The only thing that sets her apart are the choices she makes and how they govern her life or change the direction of her life. These are everyday choices with a moral compass twist – about the mysterious unpredictability of life and how one gets thrown into situations. At one point Nell assess the situation and asks herself, “What if I missed a turn somewhere —- missed my own future?” and it is  lines like these that compel me to read every book written by Margaret Atwood.

The stories are set for us and read like memories of a person. Some told in first one, and some written as third-person narratives. Spanning six decades the stories take your breath away. Moral Disorders is like a series of disjointed photographs – seen to the reader in no chronological order.

Atwood admits that many of events in these stores have strong autobiographical roots. This becomes achingly apparent in the last two stories where Atwood delivers a heart-wrenching first-person narrative about–what is purposefully in this story–an unnamed mature protagonist serving as loving caretaker of rapidly declining elderly parents. These parents could easily fit in with what we know about Nell, and what we know about Atwood. These pieces show Atwood at the height of her talent. These are pieces woven of pure magic and unconditionally every-lasting love.

In this work Atwood gives us nothing short of real life–random, disordered, unpredictable–but life embraced lovingly with open arms despite all these uncertainties and the ultimate terror of that last unknown.