Friday, May 7, 2010


i've recently picked up a couple of books that i've read before.  

this is certainly not some shocking statement.  i do it frequently.  i try to read fahrenheit 451 and to kill a mockingbird every year just to remind myself of why i do what i do for a living.

these books are different.

one of them, i hate.  loathe. detest. abhor.  it's gustave flaubert's madame bovary.  in a conversation with a friend i highly respect, we discussed a class we took together way back in the day:  continental european fiction.  it was a good class, filled with books i had never before read (that was something that didn't occur very often in undergrad).

when dr. spencer assigned madame bovary, i groaned.  i had read it before.  twice.  and even back then i hated it.  but, like a good little lit student, i picked it up again.  though (i'm sorry dr. spencer--please don't rescind my grade) i didn't finish it.  i stopped somewhere around the beginning of the first part.

so when discussing this class with the aforementioned friend, the subject of that book inevitably came up.  he loves the book.  for what reason, i'm still not entirely sure.  but his passion and devotion to it was enough to make me pick it up.  again.  to see if my perspective had changed.

so i did.  and at first i thought it was going to work out...maybe i might just love flaubert and not even know it.  i made it through the first part unscathed.  yes, emma was annoying, but flaubert's descriptions got to me.  then i started part two and the whole thing came to a screeching halt.  emma bovary is a whiny little twit.  i cannot tolerate her.  at all.

so i put the book down.  again.

earlier today, after i finished grading a mountain of essays, i began to peruse my bookshelf.  an old favorite called to me from the stacks:  emile zola's l'assommoir.

i first read zola in the same fiction class, but the experience was radically different.  dr. spencer prefaced our reading with "if you're on any kind of antidepressant, now is not the time to stop taking them."  i was intrigued, but worried.

so i started reading and was moved.  gervaise was just so sad.  her life was such a mess, yet through it all she held on.  as a reader, i looked forward to the few moments of pure joy the woman experienced and happily trudged through the darkest of moments to get to them.  i decided after the first chapter that this book was a new favorite.

so with the book screaming at me, i picked it up and flipped it open.  it is still just a beautifully sorrowful.

there is simply no other image, in my mind, that compares with gervaise standing at her open window sill, the sun beaming down with oppressive heat, contemplating her life--literally stuck between a hospital* and an abattoir**.

*hospitals in the time this novel was written were places of death, not healing
**an abattoir is a slaughterhouse


la pipe de singe said...

Remind me sometime to have you watch the death scene in Madame Bovary the French film. The movie is faithful to the book.

Dust speck said...

If Emma drives you nuts, I highly recommend you never read Zola's Nana. She too will drive you insane. But at least she's a self-proclaimed whore . . .

duessa said...

I loathe Nana! That's another one from the class that I never finished. Curiously, it's Erin's fave.

Katherine Zeeman said...

Lol. I do love Nana. She's a character. Hey, while Emma was dying and lying, Nana was surrounded by friends who knew exactly who she was and loved her just the same. I think she was a lovable character. But, that's just me. ;) K.Z.