I began this novel expecting the story to vaguely resemble the Disney film. Although I anticipated some changes (a 19th century novel could never be so simple), nothing could have prepared me for this novel.
A fully fleshed out fairy tale, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is dark, heart wrenching, mysterious, suspenseful and filled with heartbreak. The passion behind each character defines them, whether it be Esmeralda’s irrational unrequited love for Phoebus or Don Frollo’s perverted obsession with the gypsy girl. Between midnight meetings, lost identities, superstitious legends and a hideous hunchback, I truly felt like I was immersed in the world of Brother’s Grimm.
I think the greatest triumph of this novel were the characters themselves. Hugo dedicates chapters to each character, ensuring the reader fully understands each one’s loves, hatreds, virtues and failings. Don Frollo is introduced as brilliant beyond his time – no one can compare to his great mind. The reader then sees the demise of Don Frollo as his obsession with Esmeralda grows, and therefore cannot see him as a one dimensional evil character. This lack of a true enemy is a brilliant move on Hugo’s part, and leaves the reader to form opinion’s of their own.
Throughout the book, Hugo takes breaks from his complicated story to insert his own essays of his own musings. These essays, often adding 50 pages to the already enormous novel, I found tedious and unnecessary. When reading, be wary: they appear more often than anyone would like.
All that being said, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a truly beautiful story, and very much worth reading. As fanciful as Hugo makes 15th century Paris, this story has something timeless and resounding in it, earning its place as a classic.