I’m now quite resigned to being disappointed in books that are written by my favourite classical authors. It looks like I’m in the process of discovering at least one book by each of them to my dislike. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is Victor Hugo’s contribution to that lot. But it is still disheartening when a book you liked as a teen becomes a total nightmare as an adult. Perhaps it is not fair for me to draw a comparison like that, for I understand now that what I’ve read and liked as a teen was an abridged version of the book. And of course, I loved the Disney movie too. But the complete unabridged book is unlike either of them.
I have many grievances against this book; the first is the length. This story could have been told in half of the words than that he had used. There were too detailed descriptions of the Notre-Dame architecture and the medieval society and politics in general. It was important for Hugo to describe medieval society and politics and the general architecture of Notre Dame, but it needn’t be painfully detailed. A succinct description would have been ample to serve the purpose. The irrelevant and excessive details made the story secondary, and the story proper didn’t begin until half the book is gone.
The second is the tone of Hugo’s writing. It didn’t suit the tragic side of the story. There should be some gravity to carry the idea of tragedy in a tragic story, but instead, the writing was light and impassive for the most part. There was also some satire which I thought most unsuited. The whole tone of the book made me devoid of emotion. I couldn’t pity the innocent persecuted Esmeralda nor Quasimodo, a victim of a different sort. If I felt anything, it was only the utter loathing for the antagonist, Dom Frollo, and anger toward Phoebus whom I also considered an antagonist.
The third was my dissatisfaction with the flow of the story which was time and again disrupted by Hugo’s love for description and explanations. Because of this, the pace of the story was quite disturbed. Likewise was my reading experience. Instead of being taken on a smooth straight road, I was taken on a rough road with many a bend in which I jostled this way and that way till my head was swimming. It was tiring and to be quite honest I had to resort to a chapter or so of another book just to feel alright.
This doesn’t mean that the book was flawed. I still liked the story. My venting here rises from my being unable to enjoy it as I wished. I felt Hugo has robbed my pleasure with his Dickensian style of verbosity and his impassive tone.