Book Review: A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher

A Little in Love

When a book starts with the main character dying slowly and painfully in the street, you know that you’re going to be in for an emotional ride.

Then again, what do you expect from a book whose essence can be boiled down to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables as told by Eponine?

I mean, anyone who saw the musical version of Les Miz and didn’t get at least a little misty during this number has a heart of stone:

 

In A Little in Love, a dying Eponine recounts her sad life story, narrating all that she’s experienced in her young life that led up to this final moment. And so we go back to Eponine’s girlhood, as she lives in a small village at the inn run by her parents, the wicked, thieving Thenardiers. Eponine’s parents raise her and her younger sister to be wonderful thieves, able to pull rings off fingers, lift coins from pockets, take the buckles off a pair of shoes, without ever being seen. To steal is to earn love.

Into their lives comes a small girl named Cosette, deposited into the Thenardier’s keeping by her desperate mother, but the kindness and shelter she’d hope to secure for Cosette is never delivered. Cosette is treated like a dog and a slave, while the money left for her upkeep is spent on food and clothes for the Thenardiers. Eponine sees Cosette as a potential friend, until she is punished for showing any kindess. Eponine’s mother makes clear that only hardness is allowed. She must be cruel. She must be hard. Eponine can only keep what passes for love from her own mother by kicking Cosette and spitting at her, calling her ugly, and making her life miserable.

And so the years pass, until a kind-eyed man comes one Christmas to take little Cosette away into a better life. Eponine realizes just how trapped she is in the misery of her own family… but she herself has no way out, no kind-eyed rescuer to save her from her sad existence. After her father commits a horrible crime, they spend years on the run, eventually landing in Paris, where Eponine’s fate is sealed. She sees a young man, Marius, and falls instantly in love. Eponine is sickened by her family’s evil ways, and determines to be good, to be kind, to make her own way in the world and try to make amends. When Eponine realizes that Marius loves none other than Cosette, Eponine finds a way to unite the lovers, and ultimately… well, if you’ve watched the clip above, you know it doesn’t end well for poor Eponine.

A Little in Love is a lovely little book, not very long and with a nice, quick pace. Eponine’s world view may be limited, but it’s enough to show us the abject poverty of the lower classes in France and the depths to which people must sink in order to survive. Despite her horrible upbringing, Eponine holds onto her own humanity, and it’s through her sense of right and grace that we see that not all people are cruel, and that even poor, downtrodden people are capable of moments of kindess which can change lives.

This was a hard world, I knew that. It was dangerous; it had its knives and lies and cruelties, and Paris felt on the edge of such trouble. but there were small wonders too — everywhere.

Eponine’s voice is simple and genuine. She loves, she aches, she regrets. She despises her parents’ and sister’s actions, but not the people themselves. She would be forgiven for resenting Cosette and standing in her way, but of course she doesn’t: By helping Cosette, she’s doing what little she can to apologize for the years of cruelty, lightening her own burden of guilt even while adding to the pain she suffers knowing Marius will never love her as she loves him.

I would imagine that most readers of A Little in Love will be at least a little familiar with the story from the movie version of Les Miserables. This book is a reimagining of Victor Hugo’s story, so some plot changes may be confusing for those expecting the story they viewed on-screen. It doesn’t matter much, really: Because neither version of the story looks through Eponine’s eyes, the narration of A Little in Love covers new ground even when going over plotlines that may be familiar. It’s a hard balancing act for a retelling to stay faithful to the original while adding enough new elements to make the story fresh and surprising, and author Susan Fletcher achieves this remarkably well in A Little in Love.

Eponine is a tragic character, a small player in the grander story of Les Miserables, and it’s lovely to see her getting the center stage billing she deserves in this new novel.

Two final thoughts:

A Little in Love is being marketed as a young adult novel. I’d just add that younger teen readers (and older middle school aged readers) could easily enjoy this book, especially if they’ve seen the movie version. While the book portrays horrible living conditions, cruelty, starvation, crime, etc, it never gets graphic and there’s no sexual content.

♦ I really wish this book had a better title! It’s not bad, but it’s not memorable or particularly connected to the story itself. I found myself having to double-check the title several times in order to make sure I got it right! It just seems awfully generic, like something you’d paste on a light-hearted high school romance, and I’m afraid it doesn’t do the weightiness of the story true justice.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: A Little in Love
Author: Susan Fletcher
Publisher: Chicken House Ltd
Publication date: August 25, 2015
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Purchased

Flashback Friday: Les Miserables — the book!

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

Les Misérables

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

(first published 1862)

From Goodreads:

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean – the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread – Les Misérables (1862) ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them onto the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose.

Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait which resulted is larger than life, epic in scope – an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.

I’m just imagining how many people in the new few years will say, “Les Misérables? Great movie!”  — but how many would actually consider picking up the book?

Yes, it’s massive. (The Signet edition, listed above, has 1,463 pages). And guess what? I’ve actually read it. (Patting self on the back right now…)

Way back when in the dark ages (otherwise known as the late 1980s), during a brief visit to London, I had the opportunity to see the then-new musical Les Mis, from several balconies up and with no knowledge of the plot details ahead of time. I enjoyed the show tremendously, but boy, was I confused. Because I had time on my hands, I decided to read the book. Not the abridged version, thank you very much, but the whole huge doorstop of a book, all 1000+ pages.

And it was worth it. Granted, I probably learned a lot more than I ever wanted to know about the Parisian sewer systems and daily life in a convent, but I also gained the richness of Hugo’s detailed descriptions, so that I finished the book more or less understanding not just the events of the plot, but the feeling of the time and place.

There’s a reason (many reasons, to be more accurate) that Les Misérables is a classic. It’s a compelling portrait of a man’s life, as well as a study of human nature, the good and the bad, courage and weakness, and what it means to take a stand and do right. Beautifully written with unforgettable characters, Les Misérables shouldn’t be missed.

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join the Flashback Friday fun, write a blog post about a book you love (please mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the Flashback Friday host!) and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!

Anne Hathaway made me cry: A trip to see Les Miz

The rain was pouring, the theater was packed, and I was a big soggy mess. I saw Les Miserables today, and it blew me away, start to finish. I’d read some not-so-favorable reviews, complaining about everything from the length to the singing to the production values. I don’t know what they were talking about.

Yes, the movie is long. But so what? It was simply stunning. Hugh Jackman was a strong, fiery, tormented Jean Valjean, and man, can he sing!

I didn’t expect to be so moved by the story. After all, I’ve read the book, I’ve seen the stage version several times, I’ve listened to the soundtrack about a zillion times more than that. So it’s not like there were any surprises.

And yet, once Anne Hathaway’s Fantine started her descent into her own personal hell… instant waterworks. And stupid me, with only two measly tissues in my pocket. Every time I recovered, another tear-wrenching scene would come along to start me crying all over again.

The cast was fantastic. Even Russell Crowe (who — according to our local film critic — can’t sing) pulled off a stunning turn with his acting and singing as Inspector Javert. I’m not going to list the entire cast here, but I was especially moved by the young men playing the revolutionaries, taking a hopeless stand on the barricades for the sake of what they believed.

I’m no film critic, not by a long stretch, so all I can do is voice my opinion and relate my own reaction, which is this: Les Miserables is certainly the best movie I’ve seen in a long while, and judging by the faces of the people leaving the theater with me, I’d say they all felt the same.

I feel like I’ve been through the wringer, but at the same time, I feel quite uplifted. And when’s the last time a movie made you feel that way? Go see it. But bring tissues.