The Last Day of a Condemned Man – Victor Hugo (Book Review)

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This has my to read list for a little while:

One of Hugo’s shorter works, The Last Day of a Condemned Man follows the journaling of a man sentence to death for an unspecified crime.

Given six weeks until the day he faces the guillotine, the man reflects on his life and his inescapable end.

The story is an intentional writing on Hugo’s behalf – a strong opponent to capital punishment in his day. Reading his other works, especially The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables, you get this impression throughout.

Faced with his inevitable and dated death, the condemned man describes the mental torment he goes through, knowing the hour of his end.

Longing for his family and freedom, or at least a quick death rather than a wait, the man describes how he feels no capacity for repentance now all his thoughts are occupied with his approaching doom, which people will watch for fun.

Dostoevsky, in his book The Idiot, reflects similar ideas – describing being hit by a horse-drawn cart as preferable to awaiting a hanging. Dostoevsky himself having been in a similar situation himself in his youth (only being pardoned minutes before his hanging) he is quite a significant sympathizer to the thoughts of the condemned man.

Capital punishment is clearly different nowadays: for one it is now very uncommon for a country to still practice it frequently. Another perhaps is that its no longer publically viewable – the Romans loved it and crucifixion drew crowds, but more recently hangings in the 19th century drew similar crowds too.

Reading this led to interesting discussions on a topic which goes deeper than I initially thought.

If you are a fan of Victor Hugo, it’s certainly worth exploring his ideas on a topic he was clearly passionate about.

 

 

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Five Book Tags

I’ve decided to create five categories for which to assign a book to. I stole these at random, and didn’t have any particular in books in mind when I began (/writing this). I’m going through a time of looking into books I wouldn’t otherwise consider, and think it would be interesting for others to use these tags in order to get an idea of what other people are into. Please comment a link to your blog should you do so!

A book you judged by the cover and was right

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The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman – Denis Theriault

It was autumn, I was looking for a short book, I stumbled across this. The only branch of a cherry blossom with its leaves falling to the ground made me think the book was going to be somewhat peaceful, and the the title made me wonder how this would be combined with that impression. This is a great little book and one I recommend to just about everyone at some point.

 

A book you shouldn’t judge by the cover

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The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey

I feel that this cover is very simplistic, and the alternative ‘movie cover’ is even worse. I bought this on release and it is bar far the best ‘zombie book’ I’ve read. Most cliches were avoided, and the writing was actually quite good. It avoided a lot predictable plot points, and some parts were genuinely frightening.

 

A book you tried and disliked

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The Black Eyed Blonde – Benjamin Black

I hadn’t read much within the crime genre and so picked one at random. At first I thought the cliches (dusty telephone that hadn’t rang in weeks, long-legged blonde walking into the office, smoking and whiskey addiction) were ironic and funny, but it soon became evident they weren’t meant to be ironic. I felt the main character was just observing the events the whole time, and didn’t actually forward the plot himself. Maybe another crime book in the future.

 

A book that you didn’t finish

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Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

I just couldn’t get gripped by the story. I understand the premise etc., but I just found it wasn’t written well. I felt that the same few phrases were being used over and over to the point where I was no longer interested when the narrator ‘was reminded about the time when…”, so I put it down and started another book.

 

A book you’ve been meaning┬áto read for some time

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The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoevsky

I’ve liked everything I’ve read so far by Dostoevsky, and a few of his books make it into my favourites pile, but I’ve never read The Idiot. It’s not too long compared to some books, and premised is quite interesting: an impoverished noble returning from an asylum, regarded as an idiot due to his natural goodness they perceive as naivety. I own the edition in the picture too… one day I’ll read it.