...genuinely fresh and inspiring. Bellos’s book is a major accomplishment. His warm and engaging study of Victor Hugo’s 1862 masterpiece renews faith in the idea, so fundamental to the mysterious attraction of literature, that great books of whatever age continue to be worthwhile objects of attention. In applying a melange of literary criticism, linguistics, political science and history to the study of one of the best-known, if least-understood great books of all time, he illuminates the work in a way that transcends conventional literary criticism. Bellow displays a dazzling range of erudition with lightness and easy wit, and almost every section of his book bears surprising insights.
The number of cross-connections between life and fiction that Bellos describes are remarkable. The 19-year exile of Hugo himself paralleled the 19-year prison sentence served by Valjean, the sinner turned saint hero of the novel ... Can Hugo’s monumental novel provide a mirror to the injustices of our own times? After reading Bellos’s graceful and constantly intriguing account of a great novel’s history, the uninitiated (myself included) will have been inspired to find out.
For a nuts-and-bolts dissection of a 150-year-old doorstop French historical novel, The Novel of the Century is captivating ... there's a distinct charm in realizing that Bellos is not only an authority on the book but a fan ... The title of Bellos's book, it must be conceded, is much closer to those paddle steamers than it is to literary reality. Hugo's book is for long stretches hysterically over-stuffed and scatterbrained. Hugo himself might have been right in calling it 'a work of love and pity,' but Bellos calling it 'the novel of the century' is sheer fan club partisanship ... The Novel of the Century perfectly captures all sides of this publishing phenomenon and the man at its center. Bellos fascinates from beginning to end – and who knows? He may even tempt his braver readers to leave his base camp and make an assault on the Everest of the novel itself.