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Customer Review

10 of 67 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The worst book I've ever read., August 12, 2007
This review is from: Bouvard and Pecuchet: Bouvard and Pécuchet (Paperback)
This book is merely list after list after list after list of the state of knowledge in various fields at the time Flaubert was alive. If Flaubert wasn't a very famous writer, it would not be called a novel. It isn't a novel. Its an unedited scrapheap. Read it if you must real all of Flaubert for bragging rights, or because of OCD. Otherwise, run as if it were the plague. Its that bad.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 7, 2007 9:38:13 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 7, 2007 9:40:17 AM PST
As the book's translator, I thought I'd step in to comment that there's actually a great deal of science behind Flaubert's apparent randomness, but that it might not become apparent at a glance. In fact, when I first read this novel, at age 17, I found it quite boring. Only on trying it again a few years later did I appreciate how beautifully crafted it is, in language and structure, and how darkly hilarious Flaubert's view of the human condition can be. As I mention in the intro, it's easy to be fooled by the seeming repetitiveness of the conceit (try/fail, try/fail), and many of Flaubert's contemporaries fell into that trap. Fortunately, posterity has more than vindicated his two bumbling anti-heroes.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2008 1:03:43 AM PST
You did an amazing job with this new translation! It's sparkling, erudite, and fun. I enjoyed it immensely. It's great to see you defending your work in the public sphere. So often, authors and translators get trashed on amazon.com without having a real forum to respond. Bravo!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2008 8:36:23 AM PST
B. Contine says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 1, 2009 7:29:06 AM PDT
Dear Alexandra Marraccini - Thank you, much appreciated.

Dear B. Contine - As you wish:
"This book is merely list after list after list after list of the state of knowledge in various fields at the time Flaubert was alive." The book is anything but a mere inventory. In reality, there's a rich and fully realized, and often very funny, plot line running throughout, having to do with a complex friendship between two men (which, though comic, never descends to caricature); their desire, however bumbling, to better themselves by acquiring an art or skill; and, ultimately, the realization that their saving grace lies precisely in what they've been trying to escape. Along the way, Flaubert treats the reader to numerous finely honed and, for the time, remarkably dry-eyed insights about the nature of love, friendship, politics, education, religion, and the Hell waiting at the end point of most good intentions, even as he skewers the small-mindedness of provincial life with an acuity that few other novelists can boast. (To be honest, I'm not quite sure how Matthew even came up with the characterization "list after list": the prose is clear, brilliant, enjoyable to read, and even, in many ways, perfectly orthodox. The few times Flaubert does make use of lists, it's in a spirit of mockery.) Moreover, as I discuss in the introduction, there is a darker underside to this story that, in the light of the last century, makes it not only a superb critique of its own times but remarkably prescient as well: the acerbic counterpoint Flaubert offers to the blind faith in technology and knowledge-for-knowledge's-sake applies not only to his age but also to ours - one of several reasons this book is still relevant today. More to the point, Flaubert, an extraordinarily astute and unorthodox observer of human nature, is able to ridicule the foibles of his age and his characters while still allowing them a measure of Everyman-esque sympathy, even a kind of dignity. True, the structure he chose for his storyline has each chapter detailing the protagonists' ill-starred attempt to master some field of knowledge. And I certainly have no quarrel with someone being turned off by this. But to miss the many, many layers of plot and subtext that accompany each of these attempts is not to have read the book at all.

"If Flaubert wasn't a very famous writer, it would not be called a novel." If so, you would also have to strip that label from the works of James Joyce, Italo Calvino, Georges Perec, Harry Mathews, Raymond Queneau, Jean Echenoz, Jacques Roubaud, and (add your own names here), all of whom owe an enormous debt to Flaubert, and particularly to the fictional parameters he defined in Bouvard and Pécuchet.

"It isn't a novel. Its an unedited scrapheap." What we have of the novel, apart from the last extant chapter, was fully polished at the time of Flaubert's death. We know from his correspondence and other documents that he meticulously reworked each chapter before moving on to the next. The beauty and precision of his prose - which I hope I at least approximated in translation - show that this text was in no way unedited, or a scrap heap. As to the unfinished conclusion, Flaubert left behind an extensive outline and notes, showing that he knew exactly where he was heading.

"Read it if you must real all of Flaubert for bragging rights, or because of OCD. Otherwise, run as if it were the plague." Sadly, I don't know that in this day and age one can score many brownie points for reading all of Flaubert, but it's nice to know a literary classic can still inspire such terror.

"Its that bad." He means "it's."

- MP

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 12, 2009 6:42:46 PM PDT
Very nice defense of this wonderful book, Mr. Polizzotti. And, fine translation as well.

Posted on May 13, 2011 7:13:24 PM PDT
Erica says:
uhh what does the term novel have to do with who wrote it? You might want to at least be aware of the definition of the words you're using if you want to run off at the mouth about something you're to dense to understand :)

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 27, 2011 10:46:07 AM PDT
p0lyph0nyxx says:
Want to echo Alexandra's appreciation for your translation -- it's really wonderful, captures the rhythm of Flaubert's prose beautifully, and the story comes across as both eminently entertaining and very sympathetic. Thanks very much!
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