The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

Okay, I’m glad I read this book, if only to find out just how badly Disney ruined the story for the sake of their embarrassing excuse for a film adaptation (seriously though: naming the talking gargoyles Victor and Hugo? Way to pay homage to your source material there, guys)

Victor Hugo has a gift for the most ungodly depressing stories, but he writes very well when he’s not rambling pointlessly to stretch out his page count. And this story is, at its core, very emotional and sadly beautiful: Quasimodo, the deaf and deformed bellringer, falls in love with the gypsy Esmeralda. But she also attracts the attention of Frollo, Super Creep; and Phoebus, Super Douche, and it all goes to hell while Quasimodo tries to protect the one beautiful thing in his horrible life. No one gets a happy ending in this book. Everything is beautiful and everything hurts. But I can’t bring myself to give this four stars, and for one simple reason: with the exception of Quasimodo and Esmeralda, every single character in this book is an insufferable dickhead.

Frollo, obviously, deserves to be fed to sharks simply for the mind-boggling levels of creepiness he manages to achieve over the course of the story. Phoebus is even more of a fratboy asshole that I’d previously thought, and the way he decides to seduce Esmeralda despite the fact that she’s the Gypsy equivalent of a vestal virgin made me want to teleport into the story so I could kick him in the nuts. Frollo’s younger brother Jehan is a relatively minor character, but he gets mentioned because in every single scene he appears in, he’s constantly yammering away and trying to be clever and witty, the result being that he makes Jar Jar Binks seem terribly endearing in comparison.

And Gringoire the poet. I had such hope for him, mostly because I once saw a French musical version of this story and his character was the super hot narrator and I loved him. He starts out promising, but then once Esmeralda gets arrested all he can worry about is the stupid goat, because I guess he thinks she’s cuter than his wife who saved his fucking life. When he joins Frollo to get Esmeralda out of the catherdral, he leaves the sixteen-year-old girl with Pastor Pedo McCreepy, and chooses to save the goat. The fucking goat.

One final word of advice: skip the chapter entitled “A Bird’s Eye View of Paris.” It’s thirty pages of pointless babbling about what Paris looks like from Notre Dame, and it is impossible to read all the way through without wanting to stab yourself in the eyes with the first sharp object you can reach.

I know what you’re saying – “Thirty pages? Pfft, that’s nothing, I can get through that, I read Ulysses.” First of all: you did not. Second: no, you cannot get through these thirty pages. “Mind-numbing” does not do it justice. It is pointless. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Verdict: three out of five stars


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