Visiting the actor Simon Gleeson in 2014 a few months after he was cast as Jean Valjean in a new production of Les Misérables, I was startled by the bulked-up friend who met me from the train. ‘What the hell?’ I asked. ‘I have to lift a cart,’ he replied. It is not a bad exegesis of Victor Hugo’s sprawling novel and the musical it gave rise to. And it is an anecdote that would probably delight David Bellos. ‘Muscular strength,’ Bellos writes of Valjean, ‘acrobatic skills learned in prison and an ability to tolerate pain allow him to release Fauchelevent from under his cart, to climb the convent wall, to escape from the hold-up and to carry Marius through the sewers.’ Each of these events is pivotal to Hugo’s story (though there is no episode at the convent wall in the musical) and requires of Valjean the sort of muscularity that is immediately evident to both readers and audiences – hence Simon’s physical transformation.
Paul Kildea reviews 'The Novel of the Century: The extraordinary adventure of Les Misérables' by David Bellos
The Novel of the Century: The extraordinary adventure of Les Misérables
by David Bellos
Particular Books $39.99 hb, 329 pp, 9781846144707
If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.
Paul Kildea is an Australian conductor and author, considered to be an expert on Benjamin Britten. He holds a doctorate from Oxford University.
By this contributor
Leave a comment
Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.
NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.