I started reading Flaubert's Bouvard and Pecuchet yesterday. It says on the wrapper it's a twentieth century novel out of time, and- while I can see how it influenced Joyce and Beckett - it seems to me even more like one of those programmatic, philosophical novels of the 18th century- like Rasselas or Candide- or- in other words- that it's not really a novel at all. The business of the novel- the proper, 19th century novel- as practiced by Balzac, Dickens and Zola- is to reflect life as it is really lived- by people who have something of the nature, the motivation, the complexity of real people. The point of the 18th century philosophical novel on the other hand is simply to make a point- to go on and on making it, to bang it home, to drub it into our empty skulls- and sod probability, psychology, sociology or any of those things that end in y! By the end of chapter one I'd got the drift: Bouvard and Pecuchet are made of fail. And they're going to fail at everything they try, no matter what- sometimes because they've fucked it up themselves and sometimes because the universe is going to step in and fuck it up for them. But no-one in real life ever fails so comprehensively. Everyone- unless totally a victim (and B &P aren't victims, but prosperous, moderately intelligent men)- has their odd, minor triumphs. Even the drinker in the last chance saloon knows a card trick or two. Bouvard and Pecuchet isn't a reflection of the way things actually are- it's a myth- the myth of Sisyphus- rolled out at inordinate length- and it tries my patience. Incidentally, it reminds me that Joyce and Beckett try my patience too.