Tuesday 20 March 2018

Book Review: The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo

Title: The Man Who Laughs
Victor Hugo
Project Gutenberg
Publication Date:
eBook - EPUB
Free via Project Gutenberg

There is no official blurb, but basically, it is set in England in the late 17th century. Gwynplain, the hero, was mutilated at birth so that his face forms a constant smile. He rescues a baby whose mother has frozen to death in the snow, and meets Ursus, a wandering philosopher who takes them both in. Years pass and they put on a travelling performance. Déa, who is blind, is in love with Gwynplain, who loves her in return. But soon Gwynplain's long forgotten past catches up with him and he learns he is actually the son of a rebel lord.

Although I've long loved Hugo's writing, I'd never read The Man Who Laughs. Then, in January, I saw a musical based on the tale while in London, became fascinated, and sought all film and literary versions. This story is not readily available in an official translation. The only copies I could find were unaccredited translations in the public realm. As such, this translation feels a little clunky at times, but despite that, I still really enjoyed it. As always, Hugo goes off on the occasional tangent from the story, but in a mostly interesting way, and I simply adore the way he presents the relationship between Gwynplain and Dea, and Gwynplain's journey as he discovers the truth about his heritage. I was in tears by the end. It is typical Hugo fare, with commentary on social injustice. I wouldn't recommend it as a first read to newcomers to his writing, but for seasoned readers, it's definitely worth your time. In the future, I would like to get hold of a copy in the original French and read it again without the stodgy translation. 4.5 stars.

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