Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris is usually translated into English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, giving the impression that Quasimodo, the hunchback, is the hero of the novel. In truth, this is a story without a true hero or a true villain. The original French title is more apt because the central character is the cathedral itself, overshadowing, shaping and constraining the merely human lives that are played out in and around it. If the story has a villain it is Fate; blind, merciless and unremitting. There is however a heroine, La Esmeralda, and she alone of all the characters makes us laugh and cry.
Hugo can be prolix. For what Dickens will say in a sentence, and Dostoevski in a paragraph, Hugo will employ a chapter, when the mood takes him. I hate the idea of abridgements and I would normally never recommend skipping or skimming any part of a great work, but Hugo is a possible exception. The thirty-odd pages devoted to A Bird's Eye View of Paris can be safely skipped over, unless you are a bird. Everything else is essential, or at least worthwhile. Neither does the author skimp on the use of coincidence, and the plot relies on one 'who-should-it-be-but' coincidence in particular which is so convenient and unlikely that most readers will groan when they realize what it is. The charitable interpretation is that the book is after all about Fate and its inevitability.
Despite those quibbles, the novel is a resounding 5-star must-read. It is astonishingly imaginative and includes scenes, especially those in the prison, and at the very end, that are as powerful, disturbing and memorable as anything in literature. I will say no more about them, because I hate spoilers even more than I do abridgements. Needless to say, if you think you know the story from movie versions, you don't.