Sunday, July 21, 2013

81. Eugenie Grandet

Eugenie Grandet
Honore de Balzac
Around 200 pages

Surprise!  I am back earlier than I expected.  As I said before, I am currently tackling the challenge that every reader must face at some point in their lives: War and Peace.  To make it easier, I am reading it with my sister.  However, she wanted to finish another novel before we started, so I found time to squeeze this book in.  Isn't that just a fascinating story?  Read on for more details!

Just kidding, I would not do that to any of my readers.  Okay, this is the story of Eugenie Grandet, who falls in love with her cousin Charles after his father commits suicide.  Charles is forced to move in with his uncle, who is so rich and miserly that he seems like a Dickens character.  Eugenie puts it all on the line again and again for him, in order to ensure that he is able to continue to live the life that he was accustomed to. And what does she get it return?  Two portraits of his parents.  God, men are the worst all the time most of the time.

This is an interesting story for many reasons.  For one thing, slave trade is basically how Charles makes his fortune.  Now, we have read Oroonko, which was about a slave, and slavery is briefly mentioned in Mansfield Park.  Mostly, however, human trafficking hasn't burst our romantic European fiction bubble.  To have it be discussed in this book, let alone condemned, is refreshing and fairly shocking.

Now, the character of Eugenie is quite typical for a romantic novel: she is beautiful, virginal, pious, and a doormat.  However, I have been noticing a trend lately where the male heroes are actually awful bastards.  Perhaps this means we are moving away from pure romance to more realistic fiction.

Overall, this is a pretty good story and only 200 pages.  Check it out.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Dostoyevsky began his career by translating this novel into Russian.

UP NEXT: La Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

80. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Victor Hugo
Around 450 pages

Wow, two reviews in a day.  That sure beats my usual rate: one review every month and a half.  I just finished this one when I was on vacation and have been eager to write about it ever since.

This is one of those stories that everyone knows and if you are a nineties child like me, probably grew up watching (although I didn't watch this one until I was older because my mom deemed it as inappropriate).  This is the story of La Esmeralda, a woman so beautiful that every guy that looks at her falls in love (why do so many heroines in our books have this problem?  I have never met a woman who had that complaint).  She herself falls in love with Phoebus, a douchebag soldier who gets her in all kinds of trouble.  Additionally, Frollo and his adopted, deformed son Quasimodo, fall for her charms which ultimately leads to her destruction.  Oh yeah, and there is another random guy that she marries who also loves her (or possibly just her goat; I got the creeps from this one).  Sorry, it is hard to keep track of her large male harem.  Whereas I haven't been asked out for like a year.  Life isn't fair.

Wow, Disney did not prepare me for that.  For one thing, Quasimodo is not a lovable, but hideous  guy.  He is actually deaf from all the bell ringing and is extremely violent.  La Esmeralda is incredibly selfish and Phoebus is cowardly and cruel.  And where the hell was Jason Alexander??

Seriously, though, I loved this book. The entire story is fascinating and, even at times, hilarious.  Frollo's brother in particular provided much needed comic relief.  Hugo's descriptions were excellent; I felt as though I was present for a lot of scenes.  Of course, I am cheating a bit since I have been to Notre Dame but Hugo still provided a stunning image that I am sure would make an impression on anyone.

Wow, I have been rambling for quite awhile now. I guess I will wrap it up with a well deserved five star rating.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Influenced Balzac, Flaubert, and Dickens.

Introduced the concept of Epic Theatre.

The unself-centered version of Esmeralda, singing a beautiful ballad:
UP NEXT: Eugenie Grandet by Honore de Balzac.  I may be delayed again in writing this review since I agreed to read War and Peace with my sister. DAH DAH DAH!

79. Le Rouge et le Noir

Le Rouge et le Noir
The Red and The Black
Around 500 pages

Hello all!  Hope you didn't think I forgot about you guys.  As frequent readers know, I reread my favorite series every summer, which delayed this post for awhile.   However, we are back on track now and hopefully, I still have some readers.

This is the story of Julien Sorel, a young carpenter's son with Napoleonic ideals.  Unfortunately for Julien, the throne has been restored and the aristocratic are in power once more.  Julien must content himself with elevating himself in a society he despises.  He gets a job as a tutor for Monsieur de Renal and quickly falls in love with his wife.  Oops!  Everything pretty much goes downhill from there.

I have to admit, I had a good time with this one, even though it bordered on absurd.  I would read out loud certain ridiculous passages to my sister, for her entertainment, like when Madame de Renal's friend fainted when Julien said she was respectable or when everyone in the church began weeping because of a beautiful painting.  What a bunch of ninnies.  I have no idea how anything got done.

It was a fun read, even though it is a bit hard for a modern woman to relate to.  For instance, one of Julien's love interests, Mathilde, felt a great rush of love for him when he took a sword off of the wall and threatened to kill her.  She also cut off half of her fair to demonstrate her devotion to him.  Ah, romance.

Putting aside the more, um, melodramatic moments, it is actually an interesting take on French society during that time.  After the revolution, all the rich people seemed to want to pretend it never happened and in order to survive, the lower class had to as well.  Stendhal never lectured, but every once in awhile a subtle hint would be thrown in, like when Julien was forced to destroy his portrait of Napoleon, for fear of it being found by the wrong people.

So a good story but wildly over the top.  Read at your own risk.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Considered a subversive book and subsequently burned in Brazil.

The novel's title refers to the uniforms of the Army and the Church.

UP NEXT: The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.  Bring on the dancing gargoyles.