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Tony Grist

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Bouvard And Pecuchet [Apr. 6th, 2009|10:01 am]
Tony Grist
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. 
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sovay
2009-04-06 01:38 pm (UTC)
But no-one in real life ever fails so comprehensively.

Except in the intended aim of this book?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-04-06 01:45 pm (UTC)
Ha!

He spent years and years of his life over it- and it's regarded as a titanic masterpiece- maybe I'm missing something.

Or then again, maybe it's a great book and I just don't like it.

The way I don't like the Iliad.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2009-04-06 01:56 pm (UTC)
Or then again, maybe it's a great book and I just don't like it.

This happens. I love Ulysses, but I bounced hard off A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

The way I don't like the Iliad.

How do you feel about the Odyssey?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-04-06 03:43 pm (UTC)
I couldn't finish Portrait of the Artist; it really annoyed me. I have read Ulysses- or parts of it- but so long ago I can't pass judgement. I loved Dubliners- especially "The Dead".

I have to confess I only know the Odyssey from secondary sources.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2009-04-06 10:02 pm (UTC)
I have to confess I only know the Odyssey from secondary sources.

I recommend it highly, if for no other reason than the ways its characters tell and retell their world: it looks strikingly modern now, but of course it's only the way our species has always worked.
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[User Picture]From: petercampbell
2009-04-06 05:49 pm (UTC)
In a perverse way, your review made me quite interested in reading it. There's always a sense of accomplishment in completing long, difficult novels - and I love Beckett too (Joyce I can take or leave though)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-04-06 07:15 pm (UTC)
Yes indeed, it's a very interesting and very important novel. I wouldn't say it was difficult- more like long- winded and predictable. But, hey, it's a classic- and my not liking it is neither here nor there.

I think Beckett is over-rated. Joyce I love and loathe. Loathe Portrait of The Artist, love Dubliners.
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