Friday 21 May 2010
I came to this book at the perfect time. I had just recently read and enjoyed Madame Bovary. Emma Bovary gave me my first introduction to 19th century French literature, and wow, Flaubert certainly wasn't anything like Jane Austen or The Brontes! I am now rather intrigued by Flaubert, son of a doctor, who clearly learnt a lot of contemporary medicine growing up at the Hotel- Dieu.
In Madame Bovary there's an amazing chapter describing the tenotomy that Charles Bovary performs on Hippolyte, the village stable hand who has been getting around perfectly well with his club foot. Sadly, Charles isn't much of a surgeon and the operation does not go well. The account of his further surgery is harrowing. In that chapter Flaubert makes mention of Ambroise Pare and Guillaume Dupuytren.
Flaubert's fascinating tale of Madame Bovary combined with the tantalising glimpses into the history of medicine made it almost compulsory for me to fall into the thrall of Flaubert. I'd heard of Flaubert's Parrot but never been particularly interested because I've read one Julian Barnes book before, the incredibly awful England, England which was somehow shortlisted for the Booker in 1998. So it was with some considerable trepidation that I borrowed this book from the library. Only to learn that it was based around the parrot that featured in A Simple Heart (Un Coeur Simple). So, I read that too before embarking on Flaubert's Parrot. Turns out I didn't really need to. Barnes' gives a two paragraph summary early on to explain why Flaubert needed to borrow a parrot from the Museum of Rouen to help in his writing of Un Coeur Simple.
Flaubert's Parrot has perhaps the most bizzare structure that I've ever come across in a novel. Indeed, it makes one wonder if this really is a novel. Barnes himself said that he wanted to mix of fact and fiction, elastic and capacious, and expected a small audience.
A great article from the Guardian.
Flaubert's Parrot makes us ponder why we should chase the writer? Because it's so damn interesting is my basic response I suppose. And Flaubert is a perfect case in point. I so wish that our upcoming trip to France could include Rouen. I would take Flaubert's Parrot with me to reread, and to walk the locations of the book, to gaze at the Hotel Dieu, to find the pictures of Flaubert. Last months Good Reading had a great article on the Flaubert trail in Rouen.
Writers are interesting in a way that actors for example can never be, IMHO. I can't understand why week after week newspapers are filled with articles about actors. When almost any other profession is more interesting in and of itself. And most of the magazines that fill the supermarkets one week and then landfills the next are choc full of articles about actors.
I think it was in this book that Braithwaite said that he was going to "save Virginia Woolf til he was dead". Sage advice, think I'll take that on board too. I fact I already have. Perhaps it should be one of my daily affirmations just in case I feel my resolve slipping.