K.D. Absolutely's Reviews > Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
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May 25, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 1001-core, 501, classics, pre-1900, french, tragicomic
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Read from May 18 to 25, 2012 — I own a copy , read count: 1

Sinful treat. It is a story of an adulteress told beautifully by Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880). Reading this is like stepping on the edge of a cliff overlooking an breathtaking and enchanting view. There is a danger of you falling off but you cannot resist the view so you keep on going until you are stepping on the very edge.

Similar to Nabokov's Lolita or Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, this is a story about a character that is flawed. However, Flaubert makes one's reading really unforgettable because of his prose: detailed like you are a participant in those sometimes lovely, sometimes sad and tragic, scenes; and detached like you are watching the scenes and you don't know how to react, what to say, what to think because Flaubert does not make a stand and he wants you to think for yourself.

Like Nabokov and Tolstoy, Flaubert has this ability to play with his reader's emotion. Normally, I abhor adultery. There are many other books with positive themes and can help one to develop or maintain good perspectives or outlook in life. So, why spend time reading a negatively-themed book? The answer is the writing. Reading this book gives you an exhilarating thrill because you don't know where Flaubert will bring you and you don't know how to react while reading. It can challenge your core belief like hating adulteress because at some points, while reading how bored Emma Bovary is, I thought that I felt an undeniable sympathy for what she is going through and I thought that her philandering is not really sinful. I mean, Flaubert did not take sides but his beautiful prose created a smoke in my mind that made me believe that Emma's action was justifiable. For example, the vivid scenes showing how bored Emma as a housewife made me say to myself: Go Emma, have some fun with Leon!

I have been reading a lot but this ability to play with reader's emotion and challenge your core values? I've seen this only in some works of a handful of authors. Flaubert is one of them and what makes him different from Tolstoy and Nabokov, in my opinion, is that his play is ping-pong (two way or back and forth) instead of hide and seek (one way). For example, in this book Madame Bovary, there are scenes when I emphatise with Emma, then after few pages, I hate her, then emphatise again, then hate again. Also, in Part III, where the tragedies happen, is supposedly the saddest and bleakest among the three parts but Flaubert interjected funny thoughts as if challenging your emotion on whether to take everything as comic instead of outright tragedy.

The only reason why I am not giving this a full 5-star is that thought that Flaubert was too unkind to his characters in some scenes. For example, in Emma's scene when she made her conscious of her dying, it is too cruel. Then in the end scene where Charles blames fate instead of punching or kicking Rodolphe? I thought that Flaubert was too insensitive. I mean they are Flaubert characters and he can do what he wants to do with them, but since they came alive in my mind, I thought that they have become separated from Flaubert and they now deserve to live or die properly, with dignity intact, like everybody else.

That's how Flaubert affected me as a reader. Strangely unbelievable novel.

Thank you to NYKen and Marian for reading this book with me. Hope we can be reading buddies again sometime soon!

Thank you to one of my favorite female authors, Lydia Davis, for her wonderful translation. I hope you will translate more and more classics, Lydia!


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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Manny (last edited May 25, 2012 09:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Manny Then in the end scene where Charles blames fate instead of punching or kicking Rodolphe? I thought that Flaubert was too insensitive.

Oh, but this is a fantastic passage, one of the best in the book! The tragic and comic aspects are so perfectly balanced:
... il y eut même un instant où Charles, plein d’une fureur sombre, fixa ses yeux contre Rodolphe qui, dans une sorte d’effroi, s’interrompit. Mais bientôt la même lassitude funèbre réapparut sur son visage.

— Je ne vous en veux pas, dit-il.

Rodolphe était resté muet. Et Charles, la tête dans ses deux mains, reprit d’une voix éteinte et avec l’accent résigné des douleurs infinies :

— Non, je ne vous en veux plus !

Il ajouta même un grand mot, le seul qu’il ait jamais dit :

— C’est la faute de la fatalité !

Rodolphe, qui avait conduit cette fatalité, le trouva bien débonnaire pour un homme dans sa situation, comique même, et un peu vil.



message 2: by K.D. (last edited May 25, 2012 09:14AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Manny, I know. It's just that I thought that Flaubert was too cruel to Charles. On that same page, after blaming fate and being nice to Rodolphe, he killed him! Unbelievable! My jaw dropped while reading that part this afternoon! Charles has been this righteous loving husband. He just lost his wife, he lost his mother, he has not money, he has loans to pay, then he was playing with his daughter, then he died!!! Where is justice???!!!!

*sorry, Flaubert carried me away* :)


Manny Well, it is consistent with the rest of the book! Anything nicer would have felt oddly out of place...


message 4: by K.D. (last edited May 25, 2012 10:38AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely Haha. I was just kidding you. I agree. :)

But still...


message 5: by Jinky (new)

Jinky Very compelling review! Exquisitely written!! --I'm with you about adultery but literary writing also is a big plus for me. I'll give this a shot! Thanks.


K.D. Absolutely Thank you, Jinky. I know what you mean. Go past the theme and just focus on the writing. What a different reading experience. Brilliant!


[Name Redacted] Wow, we read this book COMPLETELY differently!


Kwesi 章英狮 This is one of my goody good good books last year. Haha.


K.D. Absolutely Ian, that happens. But we gave it the same rating!

Kwesi, I know. But I did not see your review so I can tell if we read it the same. :)


message 10: by Mj (new)

Mj Thought provoking review. You might consider changing your edition to the one that Lydia Davis translated since you spoke so highly of her. Search the ISBN 978-0670022076 on Goodreads and you'll get the Lydia Davis translation. Published in Hard Cover in 2010 by Viking.


message 11: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely The picture of the book was the one I read, Mj.


message 12: by Mj (new)

Mj Sorry about that. Thought the version I looked at had no mention of Lydia Davis as translator.


message 13: by K.D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

K.D. Absolutely No harm done, Mj. :)


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