I’ve always found re-writings and transpositions interesting. In terms of rewriting a classic from a new perspective, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys has the edge, but this novel is a really, really lovely exploration of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables from the point of view of Eponine.
One of the most compelling things about a rewriting for me is that, similarly historical fiction, the ending is pre-determined. This being said – this review will have some spoilers, because with a story like this, they don’t seem particularly spoiler-y. Most people picking up this novel will have interacted with Les Mis in some form before – be that Victor Hugo’s book, the long-running stage musical, the recent film or one of the older screen adaptations. It’s a widely known story. Personally, I’ve first saw the musical on its 25th Anniversary tour, and then of course saw the film with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried when it was released.
Therefore, if the ending is likely known to the majority of readers when they pick the book up, what has to become important is the way that the story is told. Fletcher ensures that this is the case for her novel by opening at the end, with Eponine lying on the ground at the barricades, dying and hoping Marius will find her. She thinks back over her life, remembering the happy memories she has, and from there we go to Montfermeil and Eponine’s childhood.
I’ve loved Les Mis for a long time because of the intricacy of its plot lines – so many characters, all weaving together on separate paths that intertwine and move in the same direction for a while, then split off in opposite directions. Every character has motivations and intentions that make absolute sense, and even when we consider someone in the wrong, it’s possible to sympathise with their intentions. Javert is a villain – but we know precisely why he does what he does. It’s rare to find a story so perfectly crafted that every character – even the most fleetingly mentioned – has reasoning for why they are where they are and doing what they do.
That being why I love Les Mis, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about one storyline on its own, plucked out of the multitude. It’s a massive credit to Susan Fletcher’s narrative voice and solid structuring that it never crossed my mind once I actually started reading. Eponine is solidly and believably characterised and situated into a whole life of development, experience and motivation.
This also cemented my intention to actually read the original novel by Victor Hugo. I might not embark on it immediately – it’s a massive book and I don’t want to start and tail off! – but I’m definitely more likely to now.
I adored how Fletcher refuses to focus too heavily on Eponine’s love for Marius, but also centres her desire for friendship with Cosette – for an affectionate relationship of any sort, which we completely comprehend from all she has experienced.
If you are a fan of Les Miserables, or just interested in transpositions of existing works, I definitely recommend A Little in Love. Susan Fletcher makes the character of Eponine by turns vengeful and sympathetic, bitter and kind. She inhabits the world of the eldest Thenardier and navigates the plot with beautiful prose and wonderful expansion.