Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert *****

Reading dates: 1 January — 9 November 2014

Looking at the reading dates, one would think I did not like this book. But I adored it. I decided to keep up with my French, so I read it in the original which, after so many years of not being serious with my school language and only paying attention to Lacan, made it hard going. Yet, reading La vérité sur l’affaire Harry Québert in French, oiled my brain. From then onwards, my encounter with Bovary was a little easier. The story, for me, tips with the unforgettable episode of the leg operation. Emma becomes an adulteress and the book, compulsive. It is so well written, so heart-wrenching, so relentless and ruthless. It is well conceived and constructed, nothing is surplus. Emma is wonderfully complex, endlessly fascinating to think and talk about. I have never read scenes of grief that are so effective. I was disarmed, inconsolable, not knowing what to think, questioning my own positioning, what I would do in each of the main character’s situation. Only great literature can give one a problem like this. Unlike real-life cases, novels are crafted from beginning to end, with purpose, limiting the superfluous and the serendipitous. Good novels are exemplar cases and Bovary is perfect in this. Not a single detail is left hanging and the most tragic one is the fate of Homais, the apothecary. I challenge anyone who doesn’t know a person with this perfectly described character, the traits of whom I discovered in my reading and not in my interacting with similar people.

I am not sure I will be able to, but I would love to re-read Madame Bovary — strength may fail me and there are always many other books to discover. Although, on second thoughts, it might be an interesting performative act to re-read it regularly, perhaps every year starting on the 1st January, like Yiyun Li re-reads War and Peace. First, I need a gorgeous copy (like hers below) and a fresh supply of post-it notes.

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