I don't know why this is, but classic books are often bound into heavy, dark tomes and printed in the tiniest print with almost no space between the lines. Perhaps the publisher imagines these books will not actually be read anymore, but instead are supposed to serve as fillers for the large shelves in aristocratic libraries and behind lawyers' desks.
Well, for those of us who still like to dust off the classics and read them, TOR's edition of the Hunchback of Notre Dame serves nicely. It's bound in a modern style--small, with an intriguing cover, with easy-on-the-eyes print. And, it's complete and unabridged (accept no substitutions on this point, otherwise you're depriving yourself of the grand vision of the artist). Also, TOR's 458-page mass market paperback is only [$]--when was the last time you got so many hours of entertainment for so little?
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a dark, desperate novel, filled with mist and moonlight and echoes in the lonely streets of 15th century Paris past midnight. In the main, it tells the intersecting stories of three lonely characters, each aching in their own way. There's Claude Frollo, archdeacon of Josas, who's spent his whole life cloistered in the tight garb of Catholicism. There's La Esmeralda, an enchantingly beautiful gypsy who's searching for her long lost mother. And, of course, there's Quasimodo, the malformed, hunchbacked figure haunting the shadows of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Hugo knows how to tell a story--there is plenty of irony, a few good surprises, and some excellent characterization. He paints the dark places of humanity: people struggling to survive, to find hope in the midst of horror, each clinging in some way to a dream that can never be realized.
One drawback of the book is its pacing, which, at times, slows to a crawl. For example, there is a long chapter on the layout of Paris in the 15th Century, which, if you're not a city planner or fastidious historian, can get pretty long and boring. Even Hugo seems to know it becomes boring, because he recaps so often. Also, Hugo often breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses the reader, which can be distracting and anti-dramatic at times. Thirdly, I would have liked to spend some more time with that loveable wretch, Quasimodo. He has a big part in the end, but not much more. But don't let these minor annoyances stop you from reading a great story.
If you have patience, The Hunchback of Notre Dame will rebuild the gothic Notre Dame of stone in words; if you have imagination, it will acquaint you with the adventures of some extraordinary characters; and if you have a heart, you will shed a tear for Claude Frollo, La Esmeralda, and Quasimodo.