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The Temptation of the Impossible:
Victor Hugo and Les Misérables
Mario Vargas Llosa
Translated by John King

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"Part literary criticism, part biography, and part personal essay, The Temptation of the Impossible is the author's perceptive tribute to Hugo's Les Misérables. For Vargas Llosa ... Hugo's marvelous novel is a brilliant portrayal of 'a world blazing with extreme misfortune, love, courage, happiness, and vile deeds.'... Some literary critics may disagree with his provocative claims regarding the role of fiction in readers' lives, but Vargas Llosa argues so passionately that even dissenting critics will admire his zealous and meticulous reasoning.... For any student of world literature who is interested in an important and hugely readable, one-stop critical analysis of Hugo's canonical novel, Vargas Llosa's book is the perfect destination."--Tim Davis, ForeWord

"Vargas Llosa is ideally placed to lead a reconsideration of Victor Hugo.... [He] examines the providential vein in Les Misérables that runs through both individual destinies and the life of nations."--Algis Valiunas, First Things

"Mario Vargas Llosa, acclaimed novelist, critic and one-time conservative politician, has, in Hugo's epic, found the perfect vehicle for a study that is a combination of literary criticism, general essay and philosophical speculation. He dissects Hugo's style, emphasizing not just his larger-than-life characters, but, more importantly, his narrator--the biggest and most dangerous 'character' in the book of dangerous characters. What makes Hugo's book dangerous is that it just might stir the reader to pursue the ideals of a better world. Llosa, with an eloquent ease that has to be admired, relates this danger to the novel form itself, and how societies--especially repressive regimes of military, religious, left or right persuasion--have distrusted the novel."--Steve Carroll, The Age

"When one distinguished author critiques the masterpiece of another, the result is not always exceptional. But in this case, it is. In this expanded version of lectures he delivered at Oxford in 2004, Vargas Llosa offers both probing insights into the characters, themes, and ultimate significance of Les Misérables and powerful lessons on the art of fiction writing."--C.B. Kerr, Choice

"Vargas Llosa's book is a significant addition to the criticism of Les Misérables and of Hugo as a novelist. Vargas Llosa makes Hugo accessible to the reader as an author who was not fettered by the time period in which he wrote. He also presents valuable insights into the genre of fiction and what 'reality' means in a fictional work. Since Vargas Llosa is himself a highly respected novelist, his book has been particularly welcomed by critics in the field."--Shawncey Webb, Magill's Literary Annual


"It is always interesting when a writer of Vargas Llosa's distinction discusses a great novelist, bringing to bear a luminous awareness of the craft of fiction. The Temptation of the Impossible is written with considerable zest, discrimination, and enthusiasm. Raising practical and theoretical points about the art of the novel, Vargas Llosa never loses sight of Hugo's specific achievement. I recommend this book without hesitation."--Victor Brombert, author of Trains of Thought

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File created: 4/21/2017

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