After seeing this title in my books about books series, you’re probably questioning my sanity. You should, but not for this. I decided to reread Gustave Flaubert’s fantastic novel, Madame Bovary, because it was in every single book I’ve read since I started doing my books about books theme. I don’t always believe in signs, but when I do, it’s because they’ve smacked me in the face a hundred times.
I expected to start this post by saying, “I know this book isn’t about books, but it was mentioned in all the books.” Well I was wrong. Madame Bovary is actually about books in its own awesome way. Flaubert’s novel about fiction is just more subtle than the other books I’ve read recently.
Spoilers abound after this point. Continue at your own risk.
Essentially, this novel is about Emma Bovary trying to achieve the existence of a novel heroine, which she does by failing to have the novel heroine life because she is, in fact, our heroine because she fails at being a heroine. Thanks, Flaubert. Emma bases her ideas of life, love, and happiness on what she reads in novels; her mother-in-law who shares her name and happens to be her exact opposite sees this and tries to prevent her from reading novels. One other character shares this fascination with comparing novels to real life, and that is Leon, Emma’s first and last lover (yes, I count him the first time. Wanna fight about it?) Leon sees Emma as the heroine of a novel just as Emma sees Leon as the hero. The novel, sadly, is about their disillusionment with these ideas rather than their realization of them.
I was excited to reread this because I forgot most of it as it turns out, so it was like a new book while still being familiar. I love a lot of things about this novel. The way Flaubert plays with the ideas of the novel form is one of the, and probably the most important, reasons I enjoy it. I also like that I’m not sure how to feel about the characters. I remember seriously disliking Charles, Emma’s cuckolded husband, and sympathizing with Emma the first time I read it. This time around I had more sympathy for Charles and thought Emma was a bit of a tart. I can’t say I dislike anybody, except for maybe Rodolph and the chemist. It’s just not that simple, and for me, the ideal book forces me to argue with myself.
Also, there are some great one liners.
“We’ll begin boldly, for that’s the surest way.”
Five out of five for Flaubert.