Madame Bovary – Book Review

Title: Madame Bovary
Author: Gustave Flaubert
Genre: Literary Realism
Format: Paperback
My Rating: 2/5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads):
When Emma Rouault marries Charles Bovary she imagines she will pass into the life of luxury and passion that she reads about in sentimental novels and women’s magazines. But Charles is a dull country doctor, and provincial life is very different from the romantic excitement for which she yearns. In her quest to realize her dreams she takes a lover, and begins a devastating spiral into deceit and despair.

Flaubert’s novel scandalized its readers when it was first published in 1857, and it remains unsurpassed in its unveiling of character and society. In this new translation Margaret Mauldon perfectly captures the tone that makes Flaubert’s style so distinct and admired.

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You know those books that you read out of obligation, finish, put to one side, then go “well, that was a waste of time”?

Madame Bovary is one of those books.

By all means, I should have enjoyed it at least a little bit – everyone loves a good scandal, right? Alas, no. This book was quite possibly one of the dullest stories I’ve ever had the misfortune to read, and I finished it solely because I’m too stubborn for my own good when it comes to reading.

(Okay, so perhaps I would’ve enjoyed it more had I actually finished the damn thing back in January when I started it, but I just did not have the time. Some books are easy to read in a week, but this is definitely not one of them.)

The basic premise is that the protagonist, Emma, marries Charles Bovary, gets bored of him, then has multiple romantic affairs. In theory this is an interesting plot, and there are certainly some moments where I could actually forget my dislike of the novel as a whole (i.e. the carriage scene, which I find endlessly amusing.)

However, the entire novel is bogged down in Flaubert’s overly verbose prose. Obviously this is inevitable, as he’s a realist writer and that’s the style of writing. (And, I must admit, there is some beautiful imagery, which is the saving grace of the novel.) But it’s a slog to get through. Any scenes of action still move at a snail’s pace, not that there were many to begin with, making this book one that you need a fair amount of willpower to crawl through.

Moving on to the protagonist, then: Emma Bovary. My God, I don’t think I’ve disliked a character this much in a while. What a vapid, air-headed woman. Again, I understand Flaubert’s intentions – he’s making a mockery of the bourgeoisie and their materialism, evident enough through Emma’s fixation upon having her house look as though it stepped out of a magazine, but yikes.

For the first half of the novel I can understand her frustration at being trapped in the same cycle day in, day out – that much is certain. But having affairs and essentially bankrupting yourself out of bitterness towards your husband who’s just trying to do his job, dammit? No thank you. 

To be fair, it’s not like the people she cheats on Charles with are glowing examples of the human race either. Rodolphe is a self-centred, self-important, scumbag who takes pride in the amount of affairs he’s had (spoiler alert: he ditches Emma the second he gets bored of her.) Léon is slightly better, I suppose, though he does have an affair with a woman whilst well-aware that she’s married.

Again, I understand Flaubert’s intentions of ridiculing the upper classes, but this book was just one long drag for me.

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That being said, I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this, especially if you liked it! Maybe you can change my mind!!

Lots of love,
Lost Signature

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