Monday, July 2, 2012

not in the least conscious of her prostitution

This will probably be my last post about Madame Bovary. I've not finished reading the novel but by midnight tonight I'll have done. My current opinion is that this is a marvelous book. Last week I called it "uneven" and perhaps that's still true, but when I reached about the halfway point in the narrative all of my possible objections against the novel fell away and I've been reading as much of it as I've got time to read, hurtling through the story. I have not suddenly fallen in love with Emma Bovary--oh, wait: maybe I have. Maybe I've fallen in love with all of the characters, thoroughly dislikeable as they are. Of course I mean "love" here as I define it when talking about my own love for my own characters in my own novels: I accept them the way they are and don't judge them, and assume that each of them has a sense of their own nobility or something like that. Which is all probably by the way. I'll start over again.

I'm almost finished reading Madame Bovary, the (in)famous 19th-century novel by Gustave Flaubert, whose influence on subsequent generations of novelists is blah blah blah et cetera. Go look him up. Gustave and I had a rocky relationship for the first half of the book but now I'm just sitting back and enjoying the read, for it is quite excellent. Mighty Reader and I had an interesting discussion on Saturday (or was it Friday? I forget) about the need for a "sympathetic" character. I argued for "compelling" over "sympathetic." Though I will admit that I find myself thinking Oh, Emma, no rather than That bitch is bad business, so perhaps my sympathies go out to Mme Bovary (and Dr Bovary as well) more than I realize. Anyway, I find this novel to be ever so fine and I don't precisely know why I had such difficulties with it earlier except, perhaps, that I was demanding that Flaubert somehow prove himself and I spent a lot of time and effort picking nits with the book. “Flaubert’s not so great, look at blah blah blah, etc.” You know: kid stuff. Whatevs.

Possibly when I have finished the book I’ll have another look at it and confirm or refute my suspicion that the overall structure is that of a five-act Shakespearean tragedy. It’s certainly a tragedy, and Emma certainly has a fatal flaw that she can’t overcome. So we’ll see.

One of the constants in my reading of the great books of literature is that I tend to approach these books warily, expecting them to be more difficult (whatever I mean by that) than they are, expecting them to be better than they are, and also expecting them to be not as good as they are. By and large, these books turn out to be nothing more or less than what they’re advertised as: really good books that reward reading. Few of them make me redefine my expectations of what a novel should be. At the same time, all of them make me redefine my expectations of what a novel could be. So Madame Bovary was certainly worth reading, if you’re me. Probably if you’re you, too.

My next book, if I don’t go off course and read a Shakespeare play (which I might do), is Salman Rushdie’s much lauded Midnight’s Children. Mr Rushdie and I don’t much get along. I loved Haroun and the Sea of Stories because, you know, I’m a sucker for fairy tales, but I abandoned The Ground Beneath Her Feet after the first chapter because I hated almost every word of it for a variety of Damned Good Reasons. But two or three or four years ago I read The Satanic Verses and, while I have issues with a certain breed of English Modernist formalism that tends to result in fractured narratives that fail to integrate into a coherent whole (Byatt is also guilty of this though I usually forgive her), I mostly enjoyed The Satanic Verses. Midnight’s Children is widely claimed to be Rushdie’s finest novel, so I’m giving it a go, possibly starting tomorrow though likely I’ll wait until Thursday to start in. As I say far too often here, we’ll see.

12 comments:

  1. Scott,
    Sounds like you are far ahead of me now. I didn't take the book with me when I went to UT, and I spent my spare time revising Cyberlama, which is getting better. I'll keep reading Bovary though. I'm curious to see how it ends. I'm also simultaneously working on The Tiger's Wife, which is slow but good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This time tomorrow I hope to be working on the final chapter of Go Home, Miss America. The Flaubert is worth the effort. I know what happens next but I can't wait to read what happens next.

    I envy your visit to Michelle's signing. Did you buy any books at the B&N? I can't leave a bookstore empty-handed. I bought a book today at the university bookstore while I was running a work-related errand. That's just how it is.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I spent about 45 minutes walking around the book store. It had been at least a couple months since I was in one! But I didn't buy anything more. I think I'm about to go on a memoir exploration, and I don't know enough about them to know which one I might want to buy. I also didn't want to figure out how I'd fit a book into my backpack, which was all I brought with me.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You bought Michelle's book, right? That's plenty!

    Have you read Autobiography of a Face?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I did indeed buy Michelle's book, and she signed it, and then I left it in Utah. But it's coming to me soon, I think! Autobiography of a Face looks interesting. I think I will make a list of potential books I might read. A part of me wants to not like memoirs so that I don't even consider wanting to write one. But, the title The Beauty of My Father came to mind this morning. That would be a hard book to write and I can only imaging it with a pen name.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The 45 minutes Davin walked around and I had to sit at my table were torture! I just wanted to get out of there go spend time with Davin. :)

    I wish you could have come, Scott, but I understand why you couldn't. I cannot wait to meet you too!

    ReplyDelete
  7. By the way, I'm toying with the idea of removing the Bit Rot War from Cyberlama. Conversely, I might possibly expand it a lot--I feel like I must do something to make it work better than it currently does. Any opins, Mr. B?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Someday, Michelle. Honest.

    Davin, what's the War not doing that you wish it was doing? It's hard to talk about it publicly without spoilers. What other aspect of the story is the war supposed to highlight/contrast/add to/whatever? What's it tell us about Diane? Why does Diane tell us about it? How does it lead to A's fate? Does the war illustrate a historical pattern of some sort? Why or why not? Etc. Be creative. Show your work.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think what's important to the story might be what things were different before and after the war. Different to the Group, that is. How was their relationship to the world changed by the war? Even if the Group doesn't see that their relationship was changed. The Bit Rot War is a narrative device that enables you to show what? It's not a means to itself, right? Though the photographer's story is brilliant. You can't lose the photographer's story. But I see the War as a sort of collection of pointers to something else going on in the story. What is that something else? What doesn't Diane want to talk about concerning the Bit Rot War and its outcome? What is the thing she hates most about it? What is the thing she fears most about it? What is the biggest lie she tells herself about it? Etc. Mine the characters; look for blood. Make it signify beyond itself. You know the drill. Though my uses of things differ from yours, so I don't know if any of this deterministic thinking helps you. It's what I do but we write such different books. Maybe you just need to tell more individual stories from the War, like the photographer's story. You throw out big numbers of dead, but we only really know about two people, right? I'm just thrashing around here, but there's a lot you could do.

    ReplyDelete
  10. It's only the second civil war in American history. That seems important, or it might. Unless there have been other civil wars you don't mention.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you, Scott. Yeah, these are all things I really need to clarify in my mind. The war was something I felt needed to be in the book to give everything a sense of scale. It was an afterthought. I think I'm going to spend some blog posts talking about this book to try and make things more concrete. I'll have to start more generally and then focus in on the war after I feel more confident with the big picture stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  12. In a couple of months I'll be revising Go Home. I can't wait, really I can't. Last night I finished the penultimate chapter. It ends with violence, hurrah! That's how you know Bailey wrote it, I guess. I am putting off writing the final chapter because, of course, I am now wracked with doubt about the whole project and I am not sure if the ending works &cet. But I'm very nearly almost finished, which seems like a good thing.

    ReplyDelete