This impassioned early (1829) work, which depicts the “six-week death agony and . . . day-long death rattle” of a condemned prisoner awaiting execution, isn’t so much fiction as it is a broadside against the barbarity of the guillotine. (The text is accompanied by a brief satirical playlet in which bureaucrats and aristocrats denounce its author as a troublemaker.) There are moments when the plight of Hugo’s nameless protagonist and narrator stirs faint anticipatory echoes of (the later) Les Misérables. But the novella’s awkward swings between high emotion and jejune sociological comment and its profusion of accusatory rhetorical questions make it of only minimal literary interest.