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Julian Meynell's Books

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Hugo's Last Day of a Condemned Man

The Last Day of a Condemned Man - Victor Hugo, Geoff Woollen, Libby Purves

This is a work somewhere between a long short story and a short novella.  It concerns, as the title suggests, the last days of a condemned man.  It focuses on the emotional life of the condemned man and is an indictment of capital punishment.  Included with the work is a preface that is an angry essay against capital punishment and a short satirical play mocking establishment attitudes towards the book.

To me it is a shame that Hugo is really only known for two books, because while those may be his best he was always a harrowing writer.  The book, taken together, is a more or less complete attack on capital punishment a century ahead of its time.  It also works better for having the essay and the satirical play included.  One of the things that I like most about Hugo is his ability to blend forms into one work of art.  While these parts were not written at the same time, they were conceived as a whole and the effect is more than the sum of the parts.  The central story is, as one would expect harrowing.  As Hugo makes clear he does not want the effect of it to be an uplifting, but instead a disturbing one.

Very good and a quick, albeit upsetting, read.