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(The Gothic Saga #1)

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  2,148 ratings  ·  171 reviews
A wealthy and notorious clan, the Bellefleurs live in a region not unlike the Adirondacks, in an enormous mansion on the shores of mythic Lake Noir. They own vast lands and profitable businesses, they employ their neighbors, and they influence the government. A prolific and eccentric group, they include several millionaires, a mass murderer, a spiritual seeker who climbs ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published September 13th 1991 by Plume (first published August 1980)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,148 ratings  ·  171 reviews

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Apr 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gothic
Oates is a modern master of the Gothic novel, and this sprawling, wondrous book really showcases her command of language and how she can push her prose right to the edge of satire while still keeping that Gothic intensity. My only minor complaint is that it's a bit long and meandering in parts, but in truth I really enjoyed it. To give you a flavor of the book, here's the magnificently over-the-top opening sentence:

"It was many years ago in that dark, chaotic, unfathomable pool of time before
Laura J. W.
BELLEFLEUR by Joyce Carol Oates is ranked as one of my most favorite novels of all time...I love this book! I savored this gothic tale cover to cover and didn't want it to end. It possesses a life of its own, the characters became ghosts that would haunt me after setting it aside after a short reading and I would look forward to picking it up again. After I finished it, I felt homesick in a peculiar way that no book has ever done to me before; it is very likely that I will revisit the pages of ...more
Kurt Reichenbaugh
Sep 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: high-brow
One of those long reads that most either seem to love or hate. I finished it this summer after picking it up in a yard-sale. I'd only read short stories by Oates before taking this one on.

My advice to anyone planning on readng it is to abandon the thought of a linear structure as a novel and take it as delivered; a series of episodes or short stories as chapters of several generations of the Bellefleurs in their castle above Lake Noir. Forget about timeline, forget about historical perspective.
Apr 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I enjoyed this book tremendously. It's a Gothic tale and a family saga that may put one in mind of Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude: in both tales, reality must be suspended, time skips around, and the endings are similiar. However, Bellefleur is written in a completely different style, and its scope is larger. The characters are intensely real. It's a sensational book!
May 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
"The living and the dead. Braided together. Woven together. An immense tapestry taking in centuries."

A little over 100 pages into this novel I stumbled across the above lines, and even though I had another 500+ pages to go, I instinctively sensed that I had discovered the key to this immense, sprawling narrative, a description of what Oates was attempting to accomplish with Bellefleur. Literally spanning centuries, seven different generations and involving dozens of distinct characters, this is
Jun 22, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: gothic
I am only a few chapters in, will check back later
It took me a long time to read this book. It was nearly 700 pages long, and just not my cup of tea. The reason I picked this book up was because it was listed as a gothic novel. There were too many characters to keep up with. I never really got a good read on the main character in the novel and at two or three times I felt the urge to just stop reading this book and pick up another one instead. That is something I NEVER do. But, I forced myself
DeAnna Knippling
Mar 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A gothic family saga, complete with lunatic relatives, serial killers, mythological monsters, absurd occurences, strange distortions of place and time, and cats.

This book was freaking huge. At first, I was like, "Why am I doing this to myself?" Then I started to pick up on some of the little discrepancies. "What? Is that true? Could that be true? How could that possibly work?" I fought it for a while, trying to make everything make sense.

Then I realized that this was the American Gormenghast
I really enjoyed this epic by Joyce Carol Oates, the first of her Gothic Saga novels. If anyone was wondering, the books are not sequential and do not contain the same cast of characters (except if a historical figure pops up in more than one which I believe might be the case). They can be read in any order.
Bellefleur tells the story of the Bellefleur family, a prominent and wealthy line who own a large amount of land in the Adirondacks as well as a large mansion. The novel jumps back and forth
Sep 10, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In my English class junior year, we had a choose an author and write a critical paper about several of their books. My 8th grade English teacher highly recommended Joyce Carol Oates, so I decided to read some of hers for this paper.

Why I chose this tome is beyond me... maybe the story sounded interesting from the blurb on the back? The writing style she adopted for this novel was so long-winded--I'm talking parathetical thoughts that go on for three pages. The time frame of the novel was weird
Dixie Smith
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is a long one, but is classic Joyce Carol Oates style. The story jumps from place to place, from one point in time to another, from character to character, none of it in any particular order. She describes some things in great detail and while only hinting at others. She doesn't always prescribe to conventional uses of punctuation and will continue a thought for line after line after line, but there is a strong flow to her stories that I find addictive.

I enjoyed this book a great deal.
Sep 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
So atmospheric! I vividly remember Leah throwing open the door in a rainstorm that wildly blows and soaks her peignoir and lush hair for a cat named Mahalaleel! I remember a huge drum on the stair landing made from a man's skin. I remember a spinster sister visited my creatures resembling vampires. I remember Mink Pond, debt, despair, the grinding away of love. I remember too many children, too many kittens on an overgrown stone patio. It was sort of like experiencing an opera.
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Seems to me that you either do or do not like Joyce Carol Oates and your reasons are as varied as the temperaments of her abundant books. (Perhaps no reason is more fitting than poet Michael Chapman's, who liked her because she was always holding a ball-point pen in her cover shots.) This was my first Oates adventure and it was a consuming experience. If you delight in vacationing in exotic books, have a taste for the gothic and other-wordly, then this is a must-read.
Jan 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is probably one of my top books of all times. You could call it a saga or an epic, and it is lush, sweeping and fantastic, often blurring the lines between sanity and lunacy, the real and the supernatural. Oates never quite makes the distinction between what is perceived and what is truly there, leaving the reader to decipher the reality of the Bellefleurs through their eyes. This book is long. This book is wordy. If you don't like intriguing, labyrinthine writing that's a journey into ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bellefleur, the mansion, is Bellefleur the family, is Bellefleur the story: a sprawling, fantastical caricature of an American dream/ nightmare; characters and settings stretched to their own hyperbole bringing their darknesses into the light; a pervasive meanness and decay that disturbs; and yet an attraction that grabs a reader and pulls her through the myriad of seemingly disconnected bits to a comprehensive whole, but leaves her wondering…
Marne Wilson
It took me the whole summer to read this book, but that was not necessarily because of the length. (Although 558 pages of very tiny print was a lot to get through, definitely.) Rather, I tried only to read this book when I was not distracted or rushed, which means I put it away for weeks at a time when my young stepson was visiting. The reason I gave this book such hallowed treatment is because Oates is writing in very heightened prose here, and it definitely keeps you on your toes. Some of her ...more
Dec 12, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you like meandering gothic tales this is for you. While I do enjoy gothic tales sometimes Oates is a hard writer to follow, and then I feel rather dumb because I feel like I am missing an important point. I did not feel like I engaged with any of the characters, as there were a lot of them, spread over a vast amount of time, sometimes with the same first name. The narrative jumped around chronologically from chapter to chapter, which also adds to the cognitive confusion. The writing is rich ...more
Jul 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed Bellefleur. This story of the Bellefleur family covers about 7 generations of crazy-brilliant nutjobs. Oates moves back and forth between generations and I was dizzily flipping between pages and the family tree in the front of the book at first. But then the Bellefleurs become your crazy, wealthy, mentally unstable family and who doesn't love that? The ending was crazy and not really in a great way, but the book was, overall, really quite good.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
Oct 23, 2015 marked it as set-aside
I give up. I spent days with this and actually got to page 300 something - beyond halfway. But I'm cutting my losses. Life is too short to keep reading what I'm not especially enjoying and what I think won't be rewarding to have finished. The people are just sick.
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Chaos. What started as an enjoyable book, ended as a crazy mix of 500 characters, 50 different stories, and unexplained paranormal and psychic activity. Oates is an incredibly inventive and imaginative writer, that’s a fact, but this book surpassed my patience. Hero after hero, story after story, she takes us deep into the family tree of the aristocratic inhabitants of the Bellefleur castle. In this book you have everything. A medium, a vampire, a shapeshifter, enchanted objects, a man going ...more
Rob Errera
Jul 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Reading Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates is like slipping into a fever dream. It’s all dark winter mood and brooding atmosphere in this novel.
Bellefleur covers three generations of the Bellefleur family over the course of more than 200 years. Ms. Oates builds this long, sprawling novel with long, sprawling sentences filled with parenthetical asides and a boatload of commas. In its way, each sentence in Bellefleur is like a tiny fairytale waiting to be unwrapped. The result is a finely crafted
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Ode to joyce. This is literature as it's meant to be.

"Bellefleur Manor was a horrific place - it was so inhumanly large - he hadn't remembered how large it was: ah, what a horror to contemplate! What sort of mind, driven by an unspeakable lust, had imagined all this into being? The castle ... the castle's grounds ... the lightless choppy immensity of Lake Noir ... the thousands upon thousands of acres of wilderness land ... the mountains in the distance: a terror to contemplate: and beyond
Finished this for 10/17 readathon ( I really liked this, but I prefer horror to be scary rather than disgusting and this went a bit too far for me in places.

I was fascinated, though. This is a contemporary take on the Gothic novel covering several generations of a very messed up family. I didn't particularly love the characters, but I loved the narrative voice -- lyrical and haunting.
Terri Weitze
Mar 03, 2016 rated it did not like it
I give up.
I have tried and tried to read this book, and I just can't. The writing is lovely. But mother of god, where is the plot? Just pages and pages of description of very unlikeable people, and not a story line in sight.
Life is too short.
I haven't finished this, but it will be a while before I get back to it.
this is one of those books that I was really looking forward to reading -- I gave up about a third of the way through -- and this experience really soured me on her writing
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
I'm done with family epics for a while. admirable weaving of storylines, but I didn't enjoy the storylines.... like 100 years of solitude but way less fun. I disliked every character except mahaleel and that was a CAT.
Nov 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Joyce Carol Oates is my all time favourite author. I can’t go too long without reading one of her books, my mind will start to itch.
From reading snippets of her 1973-1982 journal, I gathered that writing is almost a spiritual experience for her. She’s always writing, and describes herself as having no personality at all. “Transparent as a glass of water”. And this book, conveys this, so well. That mixture of mental unrest and brilliance. An expression of mild insanity.
It’s epic, and exuberant,
Lydia Thomas
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I can’t really give Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates a rating. Even the idea of doing that seems absurd to me. (I mean, it’s Joyce Carol Oates). Instead, I will just say I enjoyed this work of literary fiction immensely.

And it is literary fiction. When pregnant with her youngest, Leah gets the idea to restore the Bellefleurs to their former glory, and consequently, we learn about the Bellefleurs who built the empire, the Bellefleurs who lost it, and the Bellefleurs who don’t want any part of it.
Nov 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
There is so much to say about this book. First of all, this was the most epic, involved, complicated, and brilliant thing I've read in a long time. This book is a difficult read. So many times I felt like giving up because I was overwhelmed by how much as a reader there is to remember, keep track of. Second, this book epitomizes magical realism. No other book weaves magical realism in so well you barely notice it because it completely compliments the writing. Finally, the book is also an amazing ...more
Jul 15, 2014 rated it did not like it
Reading this book was a strange experience. I do not appreciate sentences that require road maps to navigate. If I have to edit the book myself, by removing unnecessary clauses and descriptors to tease out the meaning of the sentence, then the writing is too flamboyant for me. The story is dark and gothic and muddled. There were brief passages that would hold my interest just long enough to keep me reading, but in the end I finished it out of sheer stubbornness. I didn't like any of the ...more
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Joyce Carol Oates: Bellefleur or A Bloodsmoor Romance 5 44 May 15, 2019 06:53PM  
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and ...more

Other books in the series

The Gothic Saga (5 books)
  • A Bloodsmoor Romance
  • Mysteries of Winterthurn (The Gothic Saga #3)
  • My Heart Laid Bare
  • The Accursed
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“For it seemed (though why it seemed so, no one knew) that everything began on that night. And, once begun, it could not be stopped.” 1 likes
“the poor child there for hours (for he had the reptilian patience of an adult to whom time possesses no value except in proportion to what it might reveal, what meager nugget of truth it might suddenly cast up)” 0 likes
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