Lee's Reviews > The Red and the Black

The Red and the Black by Stendhal
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's review
Jun 20, 2010

liked it
Read from June 21 to July 19, 2010

Ooof. Finished. Finally. What can I say? It's a POV tilt-a-whirl, totally melodramatic, wasn't really extraordinary for me in terms of translated language, themes, images, characters (Julien and Mme. de Renal are mostly characterized to the point of excellence, but otherwise?). It dramatizes to the point of ok-already exaggeration the freaked-out/constantly disingenuous game-playing feints and parries of capricious young lovers. Very little love was created in this reader for these "changeable" characters, sadly, no matter how apparently hot Mme. de Renal and de la Mole may have been circa 1830. A few memorable scenes about 100 pages into it like when Julien smooches the arm of the former, a few memorable scenes toward the end when things get wild with the latter, but then it seemed to end abruptly and unbelievably (did Mathilde really obscond with his freakin' head?! How exactly did she pull that off? Not very clear, Monsieur Stendhal -- I read those lines a dozen times!). Thematic schtuff re: appearances/authenticity, the stylish fakery of civilization etc, didn't really make me see the world in a way I actually believed in, didn't enhance my perception etc -- it came off like more of a sarcastic narrative stance than a satirical one, maybe because there's no character the reader can really rely on. But mainly I'm relieved to have finished. A period piece, one of the first novels to track the psychological switchbacks (ie, thoughts) of its characters, but still, it was sort of a slog for me (thanks in large part to the constantly switching POV), with maybe a dozen dog-earred insights/images over 509 dense pages, two or three quick LOLs, and an awesome parenthetical authorial intrusion re: arguing with his editor about the merits of including political discussion -- the author is against it, saying it's like a pistol shot during a concert that doesn't harmonize with any other artistic instruments, but the editor, unfortunately, wins out. Also didn't love the heavy-handed/ironic Julien/Christ connection (carpenter's son, etc). With all that said, there was something comforting about returning to the semi-frustrating world within this little old yellowed paperback every day for about a month. I'll probably try "The Charterhouse of Parma" sometime before 2012, but doubt I'll ever make my way through this one again. (With apologies to Mr. Emmons.)
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