Sunday, August 29, 2004

Madame Astonishing

Michael Dirda reviewed Madame Bovary in Sunday's Book World. He declares:
It still astonishes.

If one were to ask, "World, which is the most perfect novel ever written?," the world would immediately answer: Madame Bovary. There are novels of greater structural complexity, such as Lord Jim and The Good Soldier, or of a broader social canvas, like Anna Karenina and In Search of Lost Time, or of more stylistic dash -- Ulysses, Lolita -- and many far more beloved (Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby, The Leopard), but Madame Bovary still stands as the most controlled and beautifully articulated formal masterpiece in the history of fiction.

and ends the review:

if you've never read it, or if you've only worked through it in first-year college French, you need to sit down with this book as soon as possible. This is one of the summits of prose art, and not to know such a masterpiece is to live a diminished life. Some early critics complained that Emma's story was a sordid and commonplace one, yet that is, paradoxically, its glory. The novelist once famously proclaimed that he himself was Madame Bovary -- but failed to add that so are you, so am I. We are all the victims of unrealized or unrealizable dreams. They somehow slip from our grasp or glitter before our eyes, only a little beyond our reach. "I admire tinsel as much as gold," Flaubert once wrote in a letter. "Indeed, the poetry of tinsel is even greater, because it is sadder."

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