A perfect novel?
That's what the critics say. Some reviewers are more honest. They say it's admirably boring. The critics snub at them and say they don't understand the true literary value of the novel.
I for one found the first 140 pages supremely boring, with page after page of static descriptions and summaries of what happened. As a modern reader, I would've liked more scenes, but more than that, I wanted more drama. The novel may accurately and vividly depict what the provincial life was like back in the early 19th century France; it may make scathing social commentaries of the day; it may be rich in symbolism and themes that can be studied and discussed in English classes and further vivisected in academic papers; but despite all these seeming virtues, I just have to say that the first 140 pages was quite excruciating and the rest was just short of "good."
It got better after the first 140 pages, no doubt, but I must admit that I wasn't drawn into it. Punctuated by long expositions that didn't progress the story one bit or illuminate the characters in any way, the novel's tempo was much slow and the constant interruptions just plain annoying.
My philosophy is that literature ought to be entertaining as well as edifying and beautiful. Unfortunately, I found Flaubert's translated prose dull and clanky. And more importantly, it was, for the better part of the novel, hypnotically sleep-inducing. It may be edifying or informative or didactic or thematically and symbolically subtle. But without the beauty of the prose or an engaging story, I didn't think it deserves the high accolades it receives universally from anyone who studied literature.
I love reading literature, but when I'm evaluating any work of it, I try to leave what others have said before and be frank with myself. As far as Madame Bovary is concerned, the prose disappoints and the story sucks. That's my honest-to-God opinion of this much revered, (to me at least) overrated work.
Classics doesn't mean you must like it. If it doesn't make you fall in love with it, chuck it away and move on.
Overall, the first 140 pages sucked tremendously and the rest had its moments but was OK on average = it was OK