My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Madame Bovary was an interesting read, mostly thanks to its main character, Emma, whom I simultaneously hated and felt sorry for. For most of the book, Emma was an unlikeable character. She cheats on her husband, Charles, and spends all his money, both of which he is too oblivious – or blinded by his love for her – to realize, something she takes advantage of. She also mistreats Charles, blaming him for how unsatisfied with her life she is. In this sense, she was irritating, but I also couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for her, because I also realized that in nineteenth century France, there weren’t a whole lot of options for women, so Emma was very much a product of her time. The reason she married Charles was to escape her father’s farm, but once she’d escaped, she found herself trapped yet again, and it became increasingly clear as the book progressed that Emma isn’t a woman who takes kindly to being trapped.
I also felt sorry for Emma when her affairs went awry, especially her first one with the womanizer Rodolphe. Rodolphe, sensing Emma’s dissatisfaction, manipulated her and then discarded her when she grew tiresome, and Emma didn’t know enough about the world to realize what was happening. I also found it interesting to note the flaws in each of the men in Emma’s life, as a huge part of the book was the contrast between expectation and reality. I felt like the flaws existed to highlight that contrast. Emma’s knowledge of the world – and men – was mostly formulated by books, so all of her relationships were doomed to failure because she couldn’t handle it when reality didn’t life up to the fantasies she’d built up in her head.
Sometimes, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes because Charles was so. oblivious. Additionally, I had a hard time keeping track of all of the secondary characters, with the exception of Emma and her rotating lovers. There were a whole host of other things going on in the book aside from Emma and her personal problems, but there were times the book dragged a little, and the other things going on in the background weren’t nearly as interesting to me as Emma was.
Madame Bovary was both easy and difficult to read. It was easy in the sense of the language being clear and accessible – probably thanks to it being a translation – but the material itself was dense. I will definitely need to reread this one in the future to try to pick up more.