I love Les Miserables, both the novel and the show (NB to those who know only the latter – Gavroche is the Thenardiers’ son and therefore Eponine’s sister), and of course everyone knows the stereotype of the Hunchback, so I was looking forward to reading this. It’s a novel of biting social commentary, though set far in the past (1483); the innocent Esmeralda is exploited, persecuted and condemned by the ruling classes, her only defenders the unreliable denizens of the underworld and a disabled bell-ringer. (And her pet goat.) It starts awfully slowly – Hugo takes a very long time to clear his throat, as it were – but the characters are largely engaging, and the action accelerates towards the climax. Knowing that it had been made into a Disney film, which presumably must have a happy ending though I haven’t seen it, I was in a state of considerable suspense as to how Hugo would resolve the situation and save the central characters.
It hadn’t occurred to me that Disney might have changed the story, so the ending came as a rather brutal shock.
I must say that I still think Les Miserables is the better book, but Notre Dame de Paris is very interesting in the way it takes a lot of the same themes and puts them together with rather different effect.