Book Review — Manga Classics: Les Misérables

I usually don’t read graphic novels, but when I do it’s usually at the urging of a friend. I have, however, read Les Miserables and was deeply impressed. I was really pretty stunned by the story and left thinking it was the greatest book ever written. In fact, my complete five-star review of the book reads “Possibly the best novel ever written. Wow.” Not my longest or most descriptive review, but one of the most honest. A very good friend of mine has been reading Les Miserables for quite a while now and keeps me up to date with her progress and bringing up points I have forgotten about in the last few years. So, I picked up this Magna Classic as a refresher.

First this is written in the Japanese standard style. The reader will start at what would be the last page of a Western book and proceed “backwards” and read from right to left. I have an electronic copy so other than reading right to left I just wipe my finger opposite and do not notice a difference.

Les Miserables is about 1,500 pages of prose and converting that into a graphic novel would seem like a challenge in itself. This book contains three hundred and fifty illustrated pages. I was expecting this edition to be the equivalent of a movie of a great book and be a disappointment. I very wrong in my initial judgment of the book. The key points and the spirit of the story are fully intact in this version of the book. The art adds to the limited words and gives a fuller grasp of the story and themes than one would expect.

The art is good and falls into the manga style. Javert has two spikes of hair that stick out in front of his face. Jean seems more Western in appearance. Most important is the portrayal of Cosette. For me, and I would imagine for many, the Émile Bayard’s 1886 engraving of little Cosette sweeping with an enormous broom is burned into my brain. Many who are nor familiar with the book easily recognize the engraving as Les Miserables. In the manga edition, Cosette keeps all her charisma, but with a slight anime touch to it. Very well done.

I have not seen the recent Les Miserables movie for fear of ruining a great book experience. I took a change with Manga Classics version of the book and was not disappointed. Yes, things were left out and not explained thoroughly, but the essence of the novel was captured and it remained true to the themes of the book. This version can clearly stand on its own, probably better than any movie. I am a bit torn recommending it to those who have not read the original novel. The novel is a masterpiece of literature that should be read. However, in this age not many people are willing to read a 1,500 page novel. Likewise, some will be turned off at a 350 page graphic novel. But, if you cannot not find the time to read the original. Read this. It captures the magic of the story.

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