Hugo’s under read and to be honest, messy late period novel comes back to life with this grand retelling. Though the novel was confused and over written, the story works like this. Gwynplaine is the heir to a vast estate owned by a rebel lord. When the lord is kidnapped, under the orders of an evil monarch, Gwynplaine is viciously mutilated and then abandoned to an isolated village and his fate. He finds his way out of this life, when the village flee on a ship believing they have been cursed and in the journey to his new life, finds a baby in the woods by its deceased mother. This leads him to a future of royalty, savagery and hope.
This story has been the inspiration for not only the Joker from Batman but also cinemas obsession with physical deformed horrors. I have to say that I am both a fan of Hugo’s work and also am disenfranchised when I see a re-do or reboot.
This is a fairly decent retelling of a story that has inspired and compelled. Written and constructed fairly directly, the narrative flows like a babbling brook. It never peaks, never asserts, never forces. This is a very reasonable thing for it to do. I feel it wants to be respectful of the ideas at play and not aggressively forcing us to have emotional resonance.
It does however give you space, emotion and lilts to the natural rhythm of hope, loss and redemption. Like much of Hugo’s work we have the very bad (institutions, monarchs etc) and the very good ( normal people, society.). The novel comes into its own with the visually captured world that is stunning and surreal enough to add to its power.