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Book Title: Труженики моря|
The author of the book: Victor Hugo
Date of issue: 2013
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 19.67 MB
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Reader ratings: 7.9
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***CAUTION*** This review contains full frontal male nudity (view spoiler)[ not actually illustrated, please contain your disappointment (hide spoiler)]
Victor Hugo is maybe the best of the worst novelists or the worst of the best, the grandfather of fat awful airport novels, at once magnificent, and risible. To explain it differently, imagine a personal ignorant of religion(view spoiler)[ sorry, this is like something out of classical economics (hide spoiler)], and then imagine dragging them round the grandest cathedrals, then imagine shoving them into a library and tell them to read until they found the books that inspired those buildings - they would come back to you with the novels of Victor Hugo (view spoiler)[ either that or textbooks on architecture (hide spoiler)]. Everything is big, expansive, both extravagantly detailed and beyond the limits of reality. Characters are hewn from a block of pure myth dragged down from the mountains of epic. Everything is many times larger than life. Seriously speaking there are no characters in this book, only caricatures, or perhaps pure titans brought from the world of Homer, Hesiod, or Gilgamesh into the 1820s when this novel is set, one is pure malice, another strength and daring, another cunning and mighty, the only woman in the story is charm personified (view spoiler)[ at least that is what the author tells us, another word for a person who says 'Good Morning Sun!' every day with a curtsy at day break, is annoying (hide spoiler)]she has no other personality (view spoiler)[ but to be fair in a Hugo novel you don't really need one, your super power is quite sufficient for authorial purposes(view spoiler)[ equally every bold slash of primary colour which a different kind(view spoiler)[ ie lesser (hide spoiler)] of writer might develop into a character has their kryptonite (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)].
I will not discuss the plot. Partly because the blurb on the back cover gives away 80% of it, only withholding the ending, but more, because the plot could be fairly detailed on a postcard, in bullet points, indeed if you imagine such a postcard in the style of one of my reviews, with spoiler text between every word and within each spoiler, further nested spoilers so that the postcard fully expanded is 430 pages of text then you've got a fair picture of what the novel is like. For example at one point one of the principal titans enters into a life and death struggle with an octopus, he is stark naked, tired, hungry and thirsty, the octopus is evil and has grasped his bare right arm, seductively stroked his chest and is about to...when Hugo breaks off the narrative for severalrelaxed chapters to discuss sea monsters and octopi, which are evil because they are ugly,and ugly in Hugo's opinion because they are evil (view spoiler)[ other people might regard them as ideal from the point of view of hugging (hide spoiler)]. In the pen of a different writer this would be terrible, but Hugo pretty much makes it work, arguably the digressions and non-pertinent material on Guernsey life, particularly the folklore are the best bits, although according to the endnotes Hugo didn't find the native folklore big enough and had to invent some worthy of his fiction.
Anyway the plot is an irrelevance. What we have is an epic struggle, M A N versus N A T U R E, in the fight of the centuries, nature is, one notes, very big, and since ordinary man is nothing to nature, therefore Hugo needs Titans as suitable protagonists. The plot merely exists to provide loose reason for the titans to come into proximity with one another and to strip off their clothes to wrestle naked with nature (view spoiler)[ indeed there well be too much full frontal male nudity in this book for it ever to be turned into a children's cartoon, soap opera, or musical (hide spoiler)]in his preface Hugo wrote : Religion, society, nature: such are the three struggles in which man is engaged. These three struggles are, at the same time, his three needs...In Notre-Dame de Paris the author denounced the first of these; in Les Miserables he drew attention to the second; in this book he points to the third (p xxvi).
A curious thing is that Hugo is quite detached, even cerebral in his approach given to philosophising and generalising about life, fate and zoology (gorillas, I learnt, are like tigers(view spoiler)[ either because of their stripes or their well known propensity for engaging in life and death struggles with naked men (hide spoiler)]). When at one point he writes that we had been with one of his titans in his anxiety, I swore - (view spoiler)[ by the verdant verrucas of Saint Veronica! sorry, some times it is hard to hold back such improper utterances (hide spoiler)] as the titan's emotional life as displayed by Hugo was flatter than a very flat thing: we know that he is obsessively in love and criminally stalking the titan who is charm personified, and he weeps once for his dead mother, and is sacred of women in the style of Christy Mahon in Playboy of the Western World, otherwise nothing. Alone, exhausted, working, hungry, and fighting naked with a naked Octopus, nothing, no inner life at all.
Actually though the whole Man versus Nature theme transcends the traditional novel, he anticipates or is an early exemplar of symbolism, leaping there from Romanticism, the brief shorts of realism slipping off him as he flies through the air. As symbolist text then the major theme maybe isn't man wrestling naked to the death with nature but the relationship between and within the principles of similarity and dissimilarity. Therefore to spoil the ending (view spoiler)[ there is a happy ending, or an unhappy ending depending on which titan you are looking at, or better said the ending is in sympathy with the nature of all titans involved, happiness and unhappiness mere human notions too small for the vision of Victor Hugo. (hide spoiler)]
He is an impressively bold and confident writer, one hundred pages in to the book, my impression was that he hadn't even begun his narrative, he was still telling me how fantastic his titans were. And sometimes he plainly runs with delight in his own invention way beyond what the narrative needs, as in his invention of the three boys out after bird's eggs who over-heard a significant conversation. Hugo can't resist having one of the boys as a pure and ultimate quintessence of boyhood,(yes, you can sod off Peter Pan!) Victor Hugo's boy abandons his own family to get a job and sleep on a pile of straw in the workshop, but he is also so pure a boy that he doesn't conform to work place discipline like some wage-slave, no, he gives himself days off to go hunting for bird eggs and investigate haunted houses when ever he pleases (view spoiler)[his employer would sack him and throw his straw on the street in disgust but for the fact that they only pay him two Belgian buns and a half handful of marbles once a fortnight (hide spoiler)]. Hugo is also droll and makes witty asides as he comments on the life and habits of people and while he philosophises generally which make it a pleasant and easy read.
Symbolically the life and death struggle between the naked man who is terrified of women, held in a deadly embrace by a creature with a single orifice(view spoiler)[ though apparently real as opposed to literary octupi have at least two, more if gender requires (hide spoiler)], with only a stiff unbending tool (view spoiler)[ a knife (hide spoiler)]to defend himself with, makes a curious degree of sense (view spoiler)[ and cries out for a queer reading of the text, as does his potential father-in-law's evident delight in him as perfect spouse, or indeed the final marriage between 'gown and gown', indeed male power is related to celibacy here, true men are however fathers, but only through acquiring the children of others, not through weakening themselves by disposing of their own seed like lesser, womenly-men (hide spoiler)] like things come together in successful union, while the combination of opposites causes death, this paradigm will ultimately in Hugo's vision be changed by (drum roll, please)T E C H N O L O G Y machines will not conquer nature so much as allow the fruitful union of opposites - steam power is the fertile, productive child of the marriage of water and fire. So Hugo's near final vision of spring time as the wet dream of nature (pp424-5) is not as bizarre as it may sound but beautifully integral to the symbolism of the whole.
I imagine this novel is best read in French, this translation reads fine, but one of Hugo's delights is particularities of the Norman-French patois of Guernsey, which doesn't have quite the same impact in translation into a uniform English. Hugo wrote this novel and interestingly Les Miserables while in exile from Second Empire France. Hugo lived in Hauteville House on Guernsey, his mistress was ensconced up the road, close but not too close, from memory I think his writing room was next to this one and had, in addition to the views, a standing desk for writing. I'm pretty sure that the downstairs rooms have carpet on the ceiling (view spoiler)[ its some years ago that I was there, and I was wearing clothes at the time,and memory is unreliable particularly when it bumps into imagination (hide spoiler)], add to that, that he was conducting seances and perhaps you can feel the unlocking of the imagination taking place in his skull at the time, gazing out at the sea, convincing the credulous that he was in contact with the dead, isolated from France but locked into a Francophone world.
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Read information about the authorVictor Hugo, in full Victor-Marie Hugo (b. February 26, 1802, Besançon, France – d. May 22, 1885, Paris, France), poet, playwrighter, novelist, dramatist, essayist, visual artist, statesman, human rights campaigner, and perhaps the most influential exponent of the Romantic movement in France, who was the most important of the French Romantic writers. Though regarded in France as one of that country’s greatest poets, he is better known abroad for such novels as Notre-Dame de Paris (1831) and Les Misérables (1862).
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