A strange novel. It is a kind of mix of a 19th century french sociological novel and a fairytale. It also is written in Hugo's leisurely style, where he takes as long as humanly possible to get from A to B. So it is a kind of cross between Zola and Perrault, told in the slowest possible way and punctuated by many essay like passages. All of that should not work at all, but in fact it works marvelously.
The book is deeply enjoyable, strange and very French. It is all born aloft, by Hugo's multiple talents as a writer. He can be very funny, yet moving and thoughtful and he slides easily from one mode to another. Previously I had read Les Miserables which is a very good book, but also has a meandering strangeness to it, so I had come to think of its excellence as a kind of fluke. This book shows that it was not in any way a fluke and that Hugo is one of the most talented writers of the 19th century.
The novel is a sort of tragicomedy. In it the author searches fruitlessly for any sense of justice or fairness. Everyone in the book is deaf to what is really going on around them, and in the end its view of human nature is reflected in the imagery of Quasimodo's deformity, the only really admirable person in the book, and in the great looming gothic cathedral that towers over Paris and the book.
But despite all the tragedy and gloominess there is something very light about the book, and it is laugh out loud funny at times. This book is where four stars meets five stars for me, and I've all ready changed its rating four times.
By far the best book to prominently feature a goat.