8 October 2013

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

How could I resist reading the ultimate classic when I knew I'd be visiting the hauntingly beautiful building that inspired the novel? You're right, I couldn't.
"While visiting or, rather, rummaging about Notre-Dame, the author of this book found, in an obscure nook of one of the towers, the following word, engraved by hand upon the wall:

He questioned himself; he sought to divine who could have been that soul in torment which had not been willing to quit this world without leaving this stigma of crime or unhappiness"

The Disney version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame has entertained and taught children for years with the story of Quasimodo and Esmerelda, but there is something so sweetly beautiful about rediscovering a childrens story as an adult and reading the full version for yourself. It's a dark tale, full of revenge, romance, love, and a chapter on "the danger of confiding one's secret to a goat."

This novel in many ways is a meandering love letter to the Author's Paris - chapters devoted just to the streets and buildings. It is set around a crumbling Notre Dame which is mentioned/next to/close by to nearly every character in the book, some of whom are only fleetingly mentioned.
It's a book that takes work to follow, but you are rewarded in so many ways.
"In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her that only Quasimodo can prevent."

Did reading the book in the cobbled streets of Paris add to the evocative imagery? Of course. Should you read it even if you aren't in Paris? Of course! Am I going to attempt to review such a beloved novel as The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Not a chance.
But take my word that it's so steeped with evocative resonance that it's hard to put down (even with the chapters that deviate from the main story). Whilst writing this, I also found out tantalisingly that UK researchers may have that discovered that Quasimodo could have been inspired by a real person, not just a figment of the authors imagination. More information here.

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  1. I love reading books set in the same places I'm visiting! When traveling in Venice, I read a mystery set there concerning Vivaldi's four seasons and then got to go to a concert of the four seasons in one of the churches. Amazing.

    I also like reading Thomas Hardy when visiting certain parts of England.

    1. Love it! I still love reading about London in books (such a Rivers of London). One day I'll get sick of it I'm sure, though it comes down to Samual Pepys perhaps!

  2. I love that you did this- what a great idea!

    1. The temptation was just so hard to resist. Reading about the building in the actual building was so evocative.

  3. Ahh, this is great! I LOVED Notre Dame both times I visited Paris and could not stop myself from snapping photos everytime I walked by it (and since it is in central Paris, this ended up being MANY photos!). Great idea on reading the book prior to visiting. It'll put some of the history in perspective and allow you to see different layers of Paris; what was and what is.


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