Tuesday, June 27, 2017

173. The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Leo Tolstoy
Around 100 pages

After A Woman's Life, we were clearly in need of something a bit more cheerful.  Enter The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

Ivan Ilyich lives a completely ordinary life as a magistrate, providing for his demanding wife, equally awful daughter, and son.  One day, he is putting up curtains and falls (this is why my apartment does not have curtains; it has nothing to do with laziness), resulting in some sort of terminal malady.  As Ivan is dying, he realizes his whole life has been a waste.

In fiction, death is often romanticized.  People get to die for the people they love, it's always sudden, and they often get to have amazing last words.  In real life, of course, it is nothing like that.  Tolstoy gives us an unflinching look at the agony and horror of real death.

As Tolstoy illustrates, death is senseless, drawn out, horrific...and I found myself saying, so what?  It's not like anything is going to actually prepare us for it when it happens to us.  I suppose Tolstoy is trying to impart some sort of wisdom: don't waste your life, etc.  This is pretty vague and in any case, I don't really subscribe to Tolstoy's advice.  Tolstoy as a writer I love.  Tolstoy as a philosopher?  Not so much.

Anyway, it's a short read and obviously well written.  But it is overrated in my opinion.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Tolstoy tried to commit suicide at the age of 50 but was unsuccessful.

UP NEXT: Against the Grain by Joris-Karl Huysmans.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

172. Une Vie

Une Vie
A Woman's Life
Guy de Maupassant
Around 200 pages

I apologize for the long delay, although rest assured I was still reading.  I briefly became obsessed with the Eragon books and then I relaxed with some old favorites.  I finally picked this book up and finished it a day.

The story centers around Jeanne, an idealistic young woman who is eager to start her life after spending her formative years in a convent.  She adores her parents, and they adore her in turn, however, she dreams of falling in love and having a family of her own.  When she finally fulfills her hopes, she realizes that married life and motherhood are nothing like she thought they would be.

How many times have we seen this story before?  A woman marries someone she barely knows...and things get worse.  Off the top of my head, I can think of about ten examples from the List.  The stories are rarely boring, although they are quite depressing.  I feel like these authors are desperately trying to advise women not to trust men so much, as they see the devastating consequences in their own lives.  Well, they don't have to worry about me!  That ship sailed a long time ago.

In any case, it was a bit frustrating to read this.  I cringed at nearly every decision Jeanne made; I actually had to put the book aside for a few hours when Jeanne gave her husband her money "to look after."  At times, I wanted to shake Jeanne for her naïveté.

I guess even the smartest women can be taken in by love; just look at Bethenny Frankel (yes, I am referencing Real Housewives in a discussion about French literature).

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Leo Tolstoy said this was the best French novel since Les Miserables.

UP NEXT: The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy.  I've already read this one, so expect a review up shortly!