10 November 2020

Madame Bovary

Madame BovaryMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Looking for something to read during the Covid lock-down, with all the public libraries closed, when I found this in a second-hand bookshop I bought it, mainly because I thought I had seen it on one of those "books to read before you die" lists.

The blurb, however, did not sound promising -- the fantasies of a bored small-town bourgeois housewife did not sound particularly interesting. Nevertheless I started to read it.

What hooked me first was the style. Even in translation, Gustave Flaubert's descriptions -- of settings, people, their thoughts and emotions -- were brilliant. So I read it slowly, a chapter at a time, and then went off to read something else. It seemed to be the best way to read it, to savour the prose style.

It was only about three-quarter5s of the way through that I began to get hooked into the plot, and thought I must finish this book before I read anything else. The book has been around long enough that there must be spoilers everywhere, but it should still be possible to avoid them.

It reminded me of The Great Gatsby, which I read 60 years ago, and so have largely forgotten, but what stuck with me about it was that fantasy love can be so much more powerful than real love, and that one's fantasies of a person can grow until the real person becomes disappointing. And this is similar in a way to what happened to Emma Bovary in this story. 

One of the things I've been thinking quite a lot about recently is the advice given to writers of fiction that characters need to have goals -- see here On writing: conflict and goals in fiction | Khanya. Well, Emma Bovary certainly has goals, though she might find them hard to articulate to herself, but the main one is defined in the US Declaration of Independence as "the pursuit of happiness". And one of the questions this novel raises is which is the goal -- happiness, or its pursuit.

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