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Book Review: Farewell by Honore de Balzac

February 21, 2011 1 comment

Picture of BalzacSummary:
Philip, a colonel in the military, lost his love Genevieve in Siberia when retreating from the Russians.  Years later, he randomly stumbles upon her in a country house with her uncle, having lost her mind from her horrible experiences in Siberia with the military after they lost each other.  She is only capable of saying one word.  “Farewell.”

Review:
I decided to read a Balzac work due to a reference in the musical The Music Man.  The elderly ladies of the town think the librarian is scandalous because she keeps works of Balzac in the library.  Clearly I needed to know what all the fuss was about, so I decided to see for myself.

My first instinct is that this classic work of tragedy shouldn’t actually be that scandlous, which perhaps was the point in The Music Man.  These elderly ladies are *so* ridiculous to object to Balzac.  In any case, however, in retrospect I can see what is so shocking.  The incredible weakness of mind and character demonstrated by both Philip and Genevieve are both irritating and depressing.  I’m not sure what point Balzac was trying to make, but all I could think was that both of them needed to man up.

That’s not to say the book isn’t well-written though.  The translation is lovely, and I’m sure in the original French it is even prettier.  Just imagining Genevieve only being able to say “Adieu” sounds prettier than “Farewell.”  The scenes are vividly described, and the reader is certainly engaged.

Overall, it is a well-told tragedy that suffers a bit from weak characterization.  I recommend it to fans of tragedies and classic French literature.

3.5 out of 5

Source: Audible app for the iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad

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Book Review: Love Among the Chickens by P. G. Wodehouse

Old book cover with man chasing chickens.Summary:
Jeremy Garnet, a novelist, is living a relatively quiet bachelor life in London when his old school friend Stanley Ukridge shows up.  Ukridge is starting a chicken farm with his wife, Millie, and wants “Garnie old boy” to come stay with them.  He’ll get to write in the country in exchange for a few hours of work a day.  In spite of the fact that Ukridge is planning to run the chicken farm without any prior knowledge or studying “the better for innovation, my boy,” Garnie takes him up on it.  Of course, life with the eccentric Ukridge surrounded by chickens isn’t quite the quiet writing environment Garnie was planning on.  Not to mention the Irish professor neighbor’s lovely daughter that Garnie can’t quite get out of his head.

Review:
There’s no doubt about it.  Wodehouse is pleasantly droll.  It was, however, necessary for me to remind myself a few times of the time period this was written in as certain portions had the feminist in me going “Whaaaat?!”

Ukridge and Millie are a delightful couple.  He’s got zany ideas; she’s endlessly supportive.  He clearly is madly in love with her and vice versa.  They’re exactly the sort of people I would want as neighbors, because you’d never get bored with them around.  Ukridge doesn’t mean to do wrong by anybody.  He just doesn’t get how society thinks it should function.  He does everything his own way, and Millie is along for the ride.

Wodehouse also manages to actually create personalities in the animals that are around from Bob the dog to Edwin the cat to Aunt Elizabeth the evil chicken (named after the aunt that didn’t want Millie to marry Ukridge).  The animals are a part of everything that is going on.  The characters actually talk to them, interact with them, and the animals respond.  It’s something that happens in my own life, but that I don’t usually see in books, so I was delighted to see it here.

On the other hand, chickens are only half of the title, and I must say, I was not fond of the love half.  Garnie’s relationship with Phyllis just hit all the wrong notes for me.  First, Garnie claims to have fallen in love with her at first sight upon seeing her on the train, yet at that portion of the book all he talks about is how lovely her eyes are.  Sounds more like lust to me.  Then there’s the fact that Phyllis’s personality stinks.  She’s dull, boring, and frankly rude.  She’s square under her egotistical father’s thumb too.  I don’t see what Garnie sees in her.  Then of course there’s the fact that Garnie pretty much stalks her for a portion of the book.  He goes to her father’s farm every night after dusk, sits in the bushes, and listens to her sing.  That’s creepy, but when he tells her later, she laughs and is delighted.  People!  Stalking is not romantic.   Gah!

I wish Wodehouse had simply written about Ukridge and Millie, as they are clearly the couple that is actually interesting.  In spite of the fact that he didn’t do that though, I really liked this book.  People who appreciate a book for the scenes in it and not the overarching plot will like it as well.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Librivox recording by Mark Nelson via the Audible app for the iTouch and iPhone

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