After my amazing luck with John Boyne’s The Absolutist last year, I decided to always keep an eye on Other Press releases and I’m glad I did. I requested a copy of this book directly from the publisher and I quite enjoyed it. This is my honest response and I received nothing in return.
To start, I’d like to say that the only other review on Goodreads is worthless (to me, at least). Why bother reviewing a book if that’s all you’re going to say? The person has, in essence, re-written the synopsis of the novel (on the back cover), without any additional insight or synthesis and it came across as snide to me. If you didn’t want to read “frothy froth about rich French people and their angst,” then why’d you read it? It never pretended to be anything else and that’s why I appreciated this novel. It’s times like this when I wish I could give half stars on Goodreads because it’s not quite what I would consider 5 stars, but not quite as low as 4 stars. Now on to my response.
This novel is everything that it claims to be, an amusing inside look at the codes, manners, and morals of high society, and it’s nothing more.So if you don’t want to read a comedy of manners, then don’t. It’s sort of what I imagine Austen’s works were like when they were first published and reactions were similar to the Goodreads reviewer’s.
As I mentioned earlier I decided to bump this higher on my list as I missed a trivia question and realized how woefully lacking French literature (Classic) is from my lists and my life.
Having finished it, I’m not quite so sure it was a bad thing French literature was missing from my life. There were parts of the novel I really enjoyed, the romance, the passion, but there were parts that dredged on and definitely left me wishing Flaubert was a more concise writer.
This is of course the story of Madame Bovary (Emma – my trivia question was ‘ In which novel by Gustave Flaubert is Emma the protagonist?’) and her fall from grace. I would say it’s a story of lessons—Don’t live beyond your means; Believe in love, and don’t give into lust; and Never stop dreaming, but know where the line between dream and reality is. We follow Charles Bovary from his time as a young school boy through to his education and his first wife. His first wife dies and he eventually marries Emma, and the rest of the story is about their love (or lack thereof) and Emma’s search for extramarital love/life. The ending is sad, but poignant.
“Believe me, there is no such thing as great suffering, great regret, great memory…Everything is forgotten, even a great love. That’s what’s sad about life, and also what’s wonderful about it. There’s only a way of looking at things, a way that comes to you every once in a while. That’s why it’s good to have had love in your life after all, to have had an unhappy passion – it gives you an alibi for the vague despairs we all suffer from.’ After a pause, he added: ‘I don’t know if you understand what I mean.’” – 81
“You make the mistake of thinking you have to choose, that you have to do what you want, that there are conditions for happiness. What matters – all that matters, really – is the will to happiness, a kind of enormous, ever-present consciousness. The rest – women, art, success – is nothing but excuses. A canvas waiting for our embroideries.” – 91