The first time I heard about Notre Dame was in grade 5 in French lit class. What began as an educational session watching NDP’s 1997 play adaptation with Garou and Helene Segara turned into a full-blown obsession about anything that has to do with the cathedral, the play, the story and the characters. Which brings us to the day where, lost in the enchanting streets of Paris, I came upon Victor Hugo’s novel abandoned in a large bookshop for second-handed books and I got to enter the world I so passionately studied from its most authentic source.
(And I mean authentic – I found it even had passages in Latin, which threw me down quite the rabbit hole)
It almost feels banal to discuss the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, for I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t heard of Quasimodo and his beautiful gypsy Esmeralda – only thing I would thank the Disney adaptation for. However, I can’t resist the pull to talk about them once more.
The novel starts with the narrator, a struggling philosopher by the name of Gringoire, leading us through the story and introducing us to the lives of Frollo the priest and his deformed disciple Quasimodo, the beautiful Esmeralda and her talented goat, Phoebus the knight in shining armor and his fiancé Fleur-de-Lys, Clopin the king of the vagabonds and so many more captivating characters.
Hugo centers the story around the Parisian gothic monument in an attempt to bring it back from the brink of death. From the 1600s to the 1800s, the cathedral underwent a series of demolishes and destructions that led it to spiral into oblivion and neglect. It wasn’t until Victor Hugo centered his story around it that it was brought back its glory and long-deserved revival.
Before I tell you to read this book as if your life depended on it, I have to mention that it won’t be the easiest read. Written in classical French with long passages in Latin, the novel takes a while to take off. I would say the first half of the book seems almost excruciatingly slow, however, once you’re used to the writing style and have been properly introduced to the characters, location and plot, it becomes impossible to put the book down.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame will seduce you into 1830s Paris and the world of tragedy, deception, passion, friendship and above all, love that peaked in its era.
Enjoy and always bring a book home. x