What a strange, lovely novel Belle Epoque turned out to be. Not a particularly fun or entertaining novel, definitely not as profound as it co3.5 stars
What a strange, lovely novel Belle Epoque turned out to be. Not a particularly fun or entertaining novel, definitely not as profound as it could've been, but still, thoughtful and original in a sense that YA rarely is. Instead of focusing on the romance or getting lost in the beauty of the times, instead of using the story to bring another tiring, perfect main character who does nothing wrong, the author didn't shy away from giving us a flawed and average main character in a strange, emotionally and psychologically taxing situation who ends up being, essentially, the eyes through which we learn about situations and characters a whole lot more interesting than herself. That in itself was a pretty big risk. I commend the author's commitment to the story where she would rather make a point than make up this ridiculously perfect main character that never grows, develops or makes mistakes, but, ultimately, Maude herself suffered as a character because, pretty much, everyone else was more interesting than she was and it was a bore sometimes to go through her scenes of introspection.
At times, I really liked that the author purposely made Maude so average and unassuming so that we could better enjoy the strong characters around her, but at others, I struggled with actually caring about Maude at all. What I appreciate the most about this, however, was that this was a perfect technique to avoid the infuriating girl-on-girl hate that pervades in YA, but it had the downfall of making Maude rather uninteresting and, for some reason, also softened the impact of her emotions on the reader. Maude felt like such a passive observer for so much of the novel, than when it was her time to deliver on the big emotions and make big leaps in characterization, it almost fell flat for me. It wasn't that I didn't care about her, but simply that I didn't care enough to make a difference. I did generally like what the author did with Maude as a character, and I enjoyed that Maude was allowed to grow and develop by making mistakes, by making bad choices and turning into a unlikable person because it made for great characterization and it felt natural. I really enjoyed the way Maude got caught up in the fantasy of living this life that was never meant for her, which is when she came off as the most realistic for me.
What struck me the most powerfully about Maude was her need to survive, how she was willing to do anything to hold on, and her development as a character felt natural, and I know there aren't many authors out there willing to tarnish the perfection of their main characters so they can learn. But, ultimately, Maude was still a two-dimensional character at times. Aside from her need to survive and prove the people from her past wrong, the other big emotion I perceived from her was the emotional blow working as a repoussoir had on her self-steem, which I suppose is the very point of the novel, certainly, but never went as deep as I would've liked it to go and was mostly static and repetitive.
There's not a particular focus on romance in this novel, which was a refreshing change, and a definite spotlight on friendship, which was one of the strongest aspects of the novel for me. While not developed further more than was necessary, Marie-Josée and Isabelle were two very compelling and strong characters that reinforced the message of the novel. Far more interesting that Maude herself, they often carried the weight of the scene, the chapter and even whole sections of the story. They even embodied the message of the novel more strongly than Maude herself. They were not fully-fleshed and sometimes even felt like a draft of their own characters, but reading about Maude in their company were often the most engaging parts of my reading experience.
Belle Epoque is a very original novel with an unusual take on what could've been a recycled story. I was expecting for Maude to have a Cinderella story, for her to go from ugly duckling to beautiful swan like many other novels, and I was very pleased when, not only did that not happen, but when I realized that setting itself apart from that was one of the points of the novel. Slightly heavy-handed in delivery, sure, but this book still made very important points on beauty and shallowness, in personal strength and self-steem, in fighting for your dreams and yourself as a human being with feelings and dignity, and all that endeared me to the novel.
Definitely slow, Belle Epoque could've used a bit more liveliness, a more engaging current to Maude's narrative and more emotional strength behind her voice. It's not a novel that will have to reading deep in to the night, not one that will deliver thrills or excitement. It's a slow, thoughtful process the reading experience for this novel, and I think that was precisely the point. I think it could've been better, but that's just me wanting to derive more enjoyment, more meaning from this novel, to make it a whole lot more memorable and give it a lot more impact than it had, because, in the end, I think Belle Epoque is exactly the type of novel it wants to be and that, even if it does not make me love it as desperately as I wanted to, it does deserve my respect. ...more
Juvenile writing, an insufferably idiotic and boy-obsessed main character, lack of world-building, age inappropriate writingThis book was unreadable.
Juvenile writing, an insufferably idiotic and boy-obsessed main character, lack of world-building, age inappropriate writing and dialogue, a maddening fixation on the boring romance, generic characterization, a frustratingly slow pace, and a complete disregard for the impact of rape on a character.
I have nothing else to say about this book. ...more
This book tried so freaking hard to be the anti-Fault in Our Stars right from the start, and it was so obvious and heavy-handed in the proces1.5 stars
This book tried so freaking hard to be the anti-Fault in Our Stars right from the start, and it was so obvious and heavy-handed in the process, that from the get-go it fell flat for me and I knew from page one that I would not enjoy this novel. I love TFIOS unabashedly, but I'll be the first to admit that it took on airs about being an anti-cancer novel and ended up becoming the very thing it was trying to criticize. In the end, at least for me, it all turned out great because I loved the book, because the book was honest and it had heart. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, on the other hand, set out to be the antithesis of all that, and it admittedly succeeded on being unlike other cancer books and not falling for the cliches and hollow messages of light in darkness and uplifting happiness amidst the sadness, but that ended up robbing the novel of any sort of soul. This book was a mockery, even of itself, and it never stopped feeling like a ham-handed and juvenile parody with the caliber of a Youtube parody video.
This book is not making any profound statement - is not doing anything, really - and that would've been perfectly okay if the novel had actually stood by its words of not trying to mean anything and hadn't tried so freaking hard to be touching in its mock-apathetic way. The novel had no effect on me, not because the novel intended it that way, but because of me, because I wasn't receptive to the novel's ridiculous way of being touching in application while being apathetic on its face. It's immature, it's not clever, and it's certainly not entertaining. I am well aware of what this book set out to do, but it was handled in such an unsubtle manner, with such an appalling lack of nuance, that it was just terrible. The writing was awful and repetitive, and like everything else in this book, it tried too freaking hard, and not once did I find it funny. I never laughed, giggled, guffawed, snorted or even smiled.
This book frustrated me to no end. It put so much effort on conveying how much it wasn't like all those other cancer books, and yet it slacked off on writing, plotting, dialogue and characterization. I can respect that all of this is meant to reflect the kind of person Greg is, because it did and it conveyed him as a character pretty powerfully, but I did not like this person, I did not care for his words or his thoughts, and I thought he was an insufferably vacuous character. And I know that might say a lot more about me than the novel, but this book was simply not for me. I am not the type of reader that would enjoy this novel, that would appreciate what it tried to do, because for me the whole thing was simply obnoxious. ...more