Josh's Reviews > Bouvard and Pecuchet

Bouvard and Pecuchet by Gustave Flaubert
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's review
Jun 19, 2009

it was amazing

What does it mean to want to write, as Flaubert famously did, a book about nothing? If Bouvard and Pecuchet is any answer, it might be the attempt to move what we think of as fiction out of the province of princesses and Wutherings and so on, and move it into the drawing room of a pair of incidental little clerks - much the same way that Larry David/Jerry Seinfeld made us realize that spending a day trapped in a parking garage was as suitable a subject for a sitcom as, for example, having an alien Robin Williams as a foster son. As Tolstoy and Gombrowicz both show, art is a continual act of debunking/rebunking: artists look at what they see as the current artistic agenda, then cry Not The Truth, then proceed to give us another set of fictions. This is all to the good - but a compressed study of all these motions (one similar to the vast exercised undertaken by Flaubert's two heroes) does seem to inevitably lead to a view of the enterprise that is paradoxically both flattened and enriched. This is what I learn from reading Bouvard and Pecuchet: not that all human activity is useless, but that all human activity is essentially the expression of a reflex as simple as the flailing of an amoeba's pseudopod. As such it is more lovable, to me at least, than tragic. I mean, who doesn't eventually become endeared to these two? And yet you are reading a book as deeply patient as The Castle (patience, which Kafka called "the only virtue).

Reading this kind of book (like reading B&P's great contemporary successor, Roberto Bolano's 2666) is a discipline, as ridiculously entertaining as it is eventually decentering. What it teaches us - what it has taught me, I think - is as trite and true as an Aerosmith lyric. Life is a journey, not a destination. Or an oasis of suffering in a desert of despair. Or it's just incredibly funny. In any event, you will never get it. As a manual, B&P excels, since it shows how to fill a life that is suffused with this recognition with purpose and joy.
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08/28/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Walter (new)

Walter Great review! Does this version have Flaubert's (hilarious) Dictionary of Received Ideas with it?

Josh It does... Apparently, F wanted the Dictionary to be the real meat of the book, instead of a simple appendix. Incredible.

Gabriel And thus, like Dionysus from Zeus's thigh, Flann O'Brien was born.

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