At-tempting Madam Bovary…….

It’s always difficult to start when you have come to a halting skating stop. But you have to start again, especially if it is important to you! No, I am not in for a philosophical debate, so do not stop reading as yet! What I referring to was the two weeks hiatus that I took from blogging and the lethargy that as result set in and prevented me from taking up the pen again….in  this case, typing keys again! I did plan the hiatus; come to think of it, I did not even want one, but what with another weekend spent being sick and the next weekend going away for a long-planned getaway and then coming back to work with three business reviews in a row….let’s just say, there has been no time for any writing. Unless you consider making PowerPoint presentation on business strategy as creative writing and considering some strategies, well truth is stranger than fiction!!

Anyway, I am back in driving seat and I am going to write about a subject that was long overdue. The Classic Club’s Spin April 1 deadline for a classic was completed by me well before the required deadline – I in fact finished reading it by about 15th March but for reasons aforementioned, could not get around to writing about the same. Some would argue about the futility of blogging about something well past its deadline, but then for me it’s always the journey that matters and not the end, though the end does decide the journey! (Don’t give up on me yet – I promise this is the last of prosaic philosophy for this day!)

After all the ado, I present to you my review of Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

Flaubert published Madame Bovary was published as a serialized novel between October 1856 and December 1856. The plot was fairly simple, focusing on the adulterous affairs of Emma Bovary, who seeks romance and adventure away from the provincial life. Apparently, after the publishing of the last episode, Flaubert was brought to trial for the eroticism of the novel, but was acquitted soon after. The book became an instant bestseller and is considered one of the most influential literature of 19th century.

Now many are already aware that I was not particularly overjoyed on getting this book as my Spin read. I had read it in my late teens and quite disliked it. However many of you and my sister insisted that I give the book a second chance in my more “advanced” years and my sister had spent one good lunch explaining to me how the beauty of the novel lay in its details and descriptions.

madame-bovary-coverThus with such encouragement and support, I valiantly ventured forth in the Bovary land! I must admit that there was a lot of truth in what all discerning readers of the novel were trying to tell me – there is enormous beauty and poetry in the description. The French countryside comes alive under the word images of Gustav Flaubert – the land, the flora, the rivers and countryside are wonderfully captivated and described that in your mind eye, you can see this part of France come alive all over again.

There is again so much originality in life and habits of a provincial 18th century French town and its habitants. The book throbs and brings to life all the characters of a typical French town – Monsieur Homais, the self-aggrandizing town chemist, Leon Dupuis, the petty town clerk whose pretense for sophistication leads to endless ruin and Monsieur Lheureux, the sly merchant and moneylender. The descriptions are correct and bring to light the frailties of human nature. Towering above all of this are the characters of Emma Bovary and her ordinary husband, Dr Charles Bovary and it is around then that the novel really develops.

My only ire was that I could not once again warm up to Emma Bovary’s character. I could not bring myself to empathize with her nor could I relate to her feelings of misery and discontentment. True, it was stated in the novel, that she was a woman of great accomplishment and education, but there was no evidence of her accomplishment in the book, unless one counts playing piano, decorating the house and reading novels as great achievement. I could not understand how a woman who had apparently been so well-educated could be so vacuous or frivolous – so frivolous that she sees herself getting more and more entangled in emotional and financial quagmire , but is unable to manage or improve her state of being. I mean she just does not seem to get the point, despite being unceremoniously abandoned by Rodolphe Boulanger, she again engages in a disastrous affair with Leon Dupuis. And all this, because she had married what she believed was an ordinary man???? A man whom she choose to marry to get out of the daily grind of running her father’s farm…I mean this woman needed professional help and instead the reader is supposed to feel empathy for her through 300 pages!!!

Dr Charles Bovary was also difficult to digest – he starts off as competent doctor and seems to disintegrate into this mass of low self-esteem and ridiculousness. How can a man be so completely be oblivious in a small town of his wife’s adulterous propensities is beyond me! And on finally discovering her affair,  and giving oneself up to complete despondency, when you still have a daughter to care for is again something I could not fathom or understand.

In the end, it’s all so depressing – Emma Bovary’s painfully self-inflicted death; Charles Bovary dying and their daughter being left destitute! I need a glass of wine and couple of Saki stories to restore a more tranquil phase of mind!

I know there are some wonderful tragedies that have been written, but Madame Bovary is just plain painful. I do not like it….not even in my advanced years!

World War II and such like…….

I am sure by now its apparent to all and sundry that I am sucker for historical novels. So I recently indulged myself again (Sigh! Yes! I do not know when and where to stop….actually I do! When I see the credit card bills!) and bought myself like 8 new novels of which I finished 3 –

  • The Light behind the Window by Lucinda Riley
  • Hothouse Flowers by Lucinda Rilley
  • Russian winter by Daphne Kalotay

The Light behind the Window traces the lives of The Martiniéres family, switching from present day Emilie de la Martiniéres’s life to delve back into the very heart of World War II and Sophia Martiniéres, whose tragic life is intertwined by an English SOE Constance Carruthers, who is sent to England as a spy in the German occupied France. First for the good things in the book – I love World War II history, so I was sold by the very subject of the book. The book does give a rare glimpse into an aspect of World War II that is rarely discussed or even known to the public – the SOEs. More than 100 women from all walks of lives were sent by British Intelligence into the heart of German occupied Europe to spy on the Nazi activities. Only 14 lost their lives. The book does bring this often overlooked aspect of history back into limelight. Further the author’s attempt to build a strong quiet and resilient character in Constance Carruthers is appreciable. In fact Constance Carruthers is the only character that I liked in the book. To begin with, the book is filled with cliché’s, a French girl falling in  love with a high-ranking German officer – I mean from the word go, this affair is doomed. Then there is typical Nazi general who is a sadomasochist and you know he is brutal and aggressive! Finally there is a so-called kind Nazi who wishes he could have helped save people’s lives! I mean there were people, Germans included, who risked their life and limb to save innocent lives instead of wishing for it. The cherry on the cake is Emilie de la Martiniéres’s – the poor little spoilt rich girl who could not become a lady and live up to mother’s expectation and ran away to become a vet only to throw it all up when the right man came along! Ugh ! Ugh and super ugh! I mean Emilie de la Martiniéres’s character is supposed to be strong and brave, when all she does is crawl into her bed and cry and cry, until you want to cry The history of the times hardly comes through and while I understand that the era is just a setting for the story, the book should have provided some concrete sense of the times.

Now there is no fool like an old fool, so when I finish reading The Light behind the  Window, I pick up another Lucinda Riley – yes I am an idiot. So I start Hothouse Flowers, which I believe was the first book by the author and I have to say it was an honest attempt and a much better effort that The Light behind the Window. This book is also set in the back drop of World War II and traces the lives of Olivia and Harry Crawford whose tenuous marriage is tested as the world plunges into a brutal war and the consequences of which are felt in the modern-day lives of Kit Crawford and Julia Forrester. This book is far better attempt – again like The Light, the book brings forth another aspect of World War II not always highlighted – the 3 year imprisonment of British POWs in the Changi jail. The word horrific does not even remotely capture the harrowing experience of these soldiers.  The characters are meatier and though Julia Forrester also seems to be crying a lot, at least her reasons for doing so are far more apt than that of Emilie de la Martiniéres’s. Then there is Olivia Crawford, the quintessential heroine, beautiful, kind and intelligent and in a deep departure from clichés, the author does not make everything wonderful and right for her.  The only weak character is Harry Crawford, but I do think that was a deliberate attempt and again, the author departs from clichés and does not give us a silent, strong towering character of moral rectitude, but a sensitive and a more human hero. In fact it makes one wonder why when the author showed so much promise in moving away from the stereotypes, did she falter back on the trite in her other novels. Having said all this, one cannot deny that the book is uni linear. It’s far too simplistic and though I cannot and will not call it shallow, it could have done with some more depth. However if you have to read a Lucinda Riley and prefer something light, I would definitely recommend, Hothouse Flowers.

Sigh! I think I have blabbed enough for one post and will continue with Russian Winter in the next blog.