Well this was definitely my pointless read of the month. I read half of Madame Bovary in off moments in Palestine, times when Becky was stressed or out shopping alone because of her stress, hours spent in airports, etc. I had to force myself to begin it, because the book itself didn’t look too inviting – I have an old hardback copy with withered pages and completely faded gold lettering. I don’t mind old books usually, I actually like them, but this one looked particularly unappealing. I was determined not to let that affect me, and set out in a valiant effort.
Unfortunately, I had to read this one, in order to moderate my book club on it in March, otherwise I would have given it up long before my final reading in Palestine. Partly it was the extremely dry translation, partly it was just the 1800s writing style I’m not fond of, partly it was the story itself. It reminded me, more and more, of Anna Karenina, which is one of the worst books I ever forced myself through. I just had no patience for Anna in 2001, and the feeling stayed the same for Emma Bovary. A perpetual whiner, never satisfied, she wants to live in a fairy tale. She lives out of absurd notions of romance and emotion, and when they fail her, when passion can’t continue and becomes mundane – like things really are in life – she moans about and has “nervous fits.” I was so relieved when she finally killed herself! No sympathy whatsoever.
Now, Madame Bovary is considered one of the best books written of all time, a master specimen of realism, and the perfect example of the modern novel. That’s what people say about it. I suppose I’m not all up on what literature periods are, but if “realism” is anything like what the name implies, I don’t know why this qualifies in any way. There is nothing “real” about it except perhaps the statement of “people are perpetually unsatisfied.” All the rest of it is just fancy. Jason and I talked about the book a bit last night. He hasn’t read it, and I went on about how dull the prose and subject matter are, how Emma annoyed me, how the whole thing was just like Anna Karenina. Jason started doing some research on it, while I pecked away at the book, trying to get through it as fast as possible, and suddenly he started laughing. Apparently there’s some poll out there of the top 10 literary influences of modern writers, and Madame Bovary comes in second only to Anna Karenina. Beyond that, he read that Gustave Flaubert’s friends were trying to cure him of his romanticism, so they purposely chose the dullest, dreariest, most mundane subject possible, and challenged him to make a book about it. Yep. That’s Madame Bovary in a nutshell.
I wish I could have put this book down way before the end. I’m glad I finally pushed through to the end and can go onto something more interesting, more stimulating. Despite the book being on every top list that ever existed, I personally don’t recommend it. I hope the people in my book club like this book much more than I do!