I'm rereading this tome after a period of about 15 years. The first time I found it to be epic, tragic, sweeping in its historical scope, blah blah.
This time, however, I find myself irritated by it. The whole thing seems like one long (and I do mean long) excuse for Hugo to invent cardboard characters and flimsy circumstances to grind his various axes. He needed an editor like I need to live in a temperate climate. Fifty page rants about French slang are the real point of the book, not the silly, ill-conceived characters.
Jean Valjean is the eternal martyr, whose fate is so depressingly tragic as to render him mostly unbelievable. Cosette is a vacant, vacuous twit who is totally under the power of first Valjean and then Marius. And don't even get me started on Marius. I guess one could argue that society made her that way, but that's not one of Hugo's many axes to grind.
The only characters that aren't completely annoying in their perfection are the characters from the underbelly of Parisian society: the Thenardiers/Jondrettes, the various criminals, Gavroche, Fantine, etc. At least they're not so unequivocally *good* that they make my teeth hurt, like Cosette, Marius, and Jean Valjean (and don't tell me he's a criminal and thus should be included in that list...he's no more complex as a character than Marius).
I'm not sure why I'm suddenly violently irritated by this novel. Some of the scenes were riveting: the street chase of Jean Valjean by Javert, Fantine's story, the scene of the crime in the attic witnessed by Marius are some examples.
It's a good thing to read, but I guess the perspective gained by 15 years of life has made me see some of its flaws as well.