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Fiona Salisbury

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Les Miserables (Penguin Popular Classics)
Les Miserables (Penguin Popular Classics)
by Victor Hugo
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly great, 26 April 2012
First a warning: This book is a challenge! Not only is it very long, but it has a lot - a LOT - of philosophical/political digressions which are not tailored to the modern attention span. You'll need to knuckle under and wade through until the next section of story progression. However, don't skip these bits - they're fascinating not only for the insight they offer into 19th century France, but equally for Hugo's insight into life. He's incisive, humane, empathetic and sincere not to mention hugely idealistic!

The characters, storyline, descriptions and philosophical backbone of this book are all top-notch. At times, it can verge on sentimentality (as in the first section - don't give up quickly!), but Hugo always manages to pull it back and create genuine emotion.

You may find yourself struggling with the politics of the book, if like me your knowledge of the French Revolution doesn't extend much further than guillotines, Marie Antoinette and a vague idea of the date! So this book is eye-opening in more ways than one. The social conditions of the time were Hugo's main focus - his message is one of protest against apathy towards the suffering of the lowest levels of society. By vividly depicting people from every class, with every level of education and wealth, Hugo is able to provide a fascinating overview of French society at a particularly lively period of history.

I defy anyone not to fall for Jean Valjean - he's a hero worthy of this epic-scale book. He's not only immensely strong physically, but morally and spiritually too. Despite that, he's also believable! All the male characters are well-drawn and easy to relate to, although the female characters tended to be a bit more two-dimensional (with the possible exception of Fantine?).

My main quibble with the book was the scenes surrounding the barricades. I just didn't understand what the characters were trying to achieve! No doubt it was obvious to Hugo's original audience, but to these twentieth-century eyes the logic of fighting on the barricades was a little opaque, especially as I wasn't sure what they were fighting for... Hugo does make some effort to explain why he believed so fervently in Republicanism, but it wasn't a cause I found easy to buy into, so those particular scenes worked less well than the rest of the book for me.

One other thing: whatever happened to the younger Thenardier boys? It seemed strange to me that after railing against those who forget or overlook 'les miserables', Hugo drops these characters completely, abandoning them to be engulfed in the Paris streets. Perhaps, though, this is deliberate.

In conclusion, this is an amazing book, one of the best I've read. Like 'War and Peace' it's long, political and contains long philosophical digressions. Unlike 'War and Peace', the characters are realistic and easy to warm to and the storyline is compelling.

The Official DSA Guide to Hazard Perception [DVD]
The Official DSA Guide to Hazard Perception [DVD]
by Driving Standards Agency
Edition: DVD

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of money!, 10 July 2008
The dvd is in several parts:
1. A series of chapters, introducing the techniques you're expected to use when taking the test.
Since these are exactly what you do when driving/riding, this is unnecessary for anyone with any experience at all on the roads. Having said that, the information was well-presented. There are no tips on how to pass the HP test - the DSA are sticking to their story that all you need is to have good real life hazard perception skills. Excuse me while I die laughing.

2. The HP test simulator.
This is the part I bought this massively overpriced dvd for. The simulator mimics the test very well, and the walk-through after each clip is also good. It makes a big difference to be given your score after each clip, as you begin to get a feel of what would constitute a 3, for example. You only /begin/ to make progress however, since THERE ARE ONLY 10 CLIPS ON THIS DVD! This is nowhere near enough to really get to grips with the test. I would strongly advise against buying this full-price therefore - get it secondhand somehow or borrow a friend's, because you'll get about an hour's use out of it and that's it. I still don't feel prepared for the test. Very, very frustrating! Also, the flag that shows your response has been registered is noticeably slow to appear - which rather defeats the object of a timed response...

3. Some multiple-choice questions.
These are the kind of things you get in the first part of the theory test. However, there are only 20 or so (so next to useless for preparation for that part of the test) and the fact that you can't select more than one answer at a time on the multiple-answer questions is irritating.

Let me repeat - DO NOT BUY THIS DVD FULL-PRICE! For not even one full test's worth of clips and more of the same garbled and contradictory instructions you get when booking the test, it's a collosal waste of money.

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