The Hunchback of Notre-Dame - Victor Hugo I listened to this on a French language audiobook, downloaded at no cost from The English title is The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

It was the first time I have tackled this classic of French literature. I suspect that I appreciate the fact that I made the effort more than I appreciate the work itself. I chose to listen on audiobook so that I would not feel compelled to look up every single word I wasn't sure of in the dictionary. This strategy worked for me. I understood the narrative without too much difficulty, although I did occasionally check in with a written version to ensure that I didn't miss anything.

The book is not an easy read. There are bits of it I love: the descriptions of Paris and of Notre-Dame Cathedral are breathtaking, as are other passages describing, for example, the night sky. I also liked the narrative voice, which Hugo uses to create the illusion that he is recounting history and not writing fiction. This is a clever, if at times intrusive, device, which allows the writer to discourse on subjects of interest to him - notably his views about the decline of great architecture as a form of communication.

However, notwithstanding its strengths, I rarely felt completely engaged or totally absorbed. I think that this is because the characters are rarely more than symbols and sometimes not much more than cariactures. In my view, the novel is too much driven by ideas and not enough driven by character. At the end of the day, I wasn't as moved by the fate of the protagonists as I might have been if Hugo had invested a little more time in making them living, breathing people. That said, I found the last part of the book enthralling and I couldn't stop listening until it was finished. It was at the end that I cared most about the main characters.

Overall, I'm glad I made the effort, but I doubt that I will re-read this novel any time soon.