Sentimental Education- Gustave Flaubert

Another French book to add to the collection this time. A book that, when first faced with, I was not excited about and very nearly did not read. However, the fact that I haven’t read much Flaubert in the past, along with the fact that I am a French student, and should probably have read Flaubert, persuaded me.

In fact, I am quite glad I did manage to persuade myself, as I was pleasantly surprised by what the novel had to offer. The beginning was dry, as I had sort of anticipated, but I persevered and it paid off. At first, I tried to read the book entirely in French, but quickly realised that this would lead to lots of skimming, and decided that reading an English translation alongside the original was a much better approach.

As you might imagine, the book is filled with the scandalous romances that took place in the 19th Century, and in particular follows those of Frédéric Moreau. However, alongside or rather entwined with,  these many romances, we follow Frédéric’s political beliefs, at a time of great political change in the country. Inevitably, his political and social beliefs have an effect on his love affairs and, in a bid to gain social and political status, he becomes disloyal and dishonest towards his multiple mistresses.

 

It is interesting that, in spite of the  many encounters Moreau makes during the course of the novel, he ultimately ends up alone, having made very little social progress in comparison to the beginning of the novel. Also, even though he has met numerous new and different people, at the end of the narrative, he still only really has the person he had at the beginning: Deslauriers. It is as if Flaubert wanted to show that social standing and importance counts for very little if you aren’t a decent person- even back in a time when money and social status seemed to be incredibly important.  I really appreciate noticing little life lessons like this, that are so relevant nowadays, despite the fact that so many years have passed since- it shows that, after all, we are still people, no matter how society may have changed.

 

What I also like, as is the case in so many of the novels published at the period, is the intertextuality. Flaubert, like other contemporary novelists, acknowledge other great works of the period, that affected literature then, and continue to do so now. In this instance, Blazac’s Comédie Humaine, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote are just two of the classics that are explicitly mentioned, with other more subtle references scattered among the pages. I think this nod of the head to such great works shows that Flaubert is not embarrassed to be influenced by other great writers, and in a way shows his humility- accrediting him further as an author, in my opinion.

 

I cannot lie and pretend that Sentimental Education is the most exciting book I have ever read. It is not filled with action and drama- though the love affairs are a little shocking- but it does provide the reader with some important life lessons (subtle as some may be) about what is important to function and succeed in society, and that is sometimes more important than a gripping narrative plot.

 

A Yorkshire Christmas- Kate Hewitt

Firstly, I’d like to apologise for the lack of recent blog posts. A mixture of planning for my teaching for the last couple of weeks of term, and university coursework has meant that I have been a little out of action in terms of reading.

However, in order to keep my spirits up and to remind me that Christmas really is only just around the corner, I chose a festive book to review for this blog post. Kate Hewitt’s A Yorkshire Christmas is the second book as part of her ‘Christmas Around The World’ series and, in spite of having not the first book, I felt I could still thoroughly enjoy it.

My first impressions are that it reminded me a little of The Holiday  : an american woman has no one to spend Christmas with at home, so decides to spend it in the UK countryside and end up accidentally meeting the neighbour, a single father,  who she also happens to fall in love with.  Cliché, but actually quite pleasant and soothing to read at a time when you feel that you are drowning in responsibilities.

I liked how easy it was to establish a relationship with the characters, probably because there are so few of them: Claire, Noah and his daughter Molly. Also, all of the characters are so likeable ( or rather,  we are just given nothing to dislike about them) that, as a reader, I wanted to get to know them quickly.

I would say the beginning of the book has a strong narrative. The couple don’t simply meet by chance, it is rather out of necessity. I like this as it doesn’t appear to false or forced, making the book read fairly naturally. However, I would say that the strength of the narrative and plot does then deplete…Noah and Claire spend Christmas together, in an odd, slightly awkward way…and after that nothing much happens before the book draws to a close.

I suppose the Epilogue, visiting the characters a year after the rest of the story, is useful as it allows the extra character development that the main story was lacking. However, I must admit that this felt a little rushed.

It must be said that, in spite of my criticism of the weak narrative, I did only really notice these faults after I had finished the book- probably because I didn’t realise it would be over quite so quickly ( I was reading on my kindle, and it showed I was less than 50% through when I had finished the book). Whilst I was actually reading, I did enjoy the book and all that it contained. I also like the rural setting, as it reminds me of my home village in England, that I am so excited to return to shortly!

As a result of this, I probably would recommend this book to someone who is just looking for a light-hearted festive book to get you in the mood for Christmas. I would also consider reading other books in the series over this festive period!