Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Mr B's Reading Year 2010 - Book 1 - Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I told you there were some biggies I hadn't read. You ain't seen nothin' yet.

So I began the year with Madame Bovary. Not only had I not read it, this was also a perfect starting point as I'd somehow managed to avoid any detailed plot knowledge beyond the fact that Emma was supposedly no angel.

I read the Everyman translation, not for some sensible reason such as recommendation of the translation but because this reading year is also an opportunity for me to buy lovely editions of all of these great novels and, as is often the case, the Everyman hardback is the nicest out there.

(Slight Spoiler Alert in this paragraph) - For those who haven't read it (shame on you!) here's the plot in 2 sentences. Farmer's daughter Emma Rouault dreams of action but marries the rather stolid occasionally incompetenet doctor, Charles Bovary who promises to be her entrance to the high life for about a week before emerging as her entrance to the same old small-town drudgery she was hoping to escape from. Emma seeks other ways (mostly male ways) of livening up her life.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel more or less from start to finish with perhaps just a few moments of tedium when Emma's listless whinging was really being laid on thick. It's true what I've since read that people say, it is a novel that doesn't feel like it was written in 1856. Whilst the day to day goings on in semi-rural France are clearly of their period, the characters are so remarkably vivid and entertaining and their characteristics and shenanigans could be adapted to appear in a novel of almost any period.

The strength of the characterisation doesn't just lie in the pathetic Charles and the out-of-line but still slightly likeable (by men only?) Emma, but also the often comical side characters like the opinionated busy-body atheist pharmacist Monsieur Homais and the roguish Rodolphe.

Loved it. Great start to my reading year. I found 2 great quotes in it that I thought showed Flaubert/the translator's wordsmithery perfectly....but I'm in the shop now and I've just sold the Everyman edition to someone so I'll have to add those on a new post tomorrow!

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