Set amid the stifling atmosphere of 19th-century bourgeois France, Madame Bovary is at once an unsparing depiction of a woman’s gradual corruption and a savagely ironic study of human shallowness and stupidity. Neither Emma, nor her lovers, nor Homais, the man of science, escapes the author’s searing castigation, and it is the book’s final profound irony that only Charles, Emma’s oxlike, eternally deceived husband, emerges with a measure of human grace through his stubborn and selfless love.
With its rare formal perfection, Madame Bovary represents, as Frank O’Connor has declared, “possibly the most beautifully written book ever composed; undoubtedly the most beautifully written novel…a book that invites superlatives…the most important novel of the century.”
Public Domain (P)2010 Penguin Audio
Well, revisiting this novel was more enjoyable than I expected. I remembered it being very depressing and difficult to get through when I was a good deal younger and less tolerant. I am so glad that I was encouraged to get the audible. It really brought the characters alive for me and elicited greater understanding of Flaubert's masterpiece. Although Emma is a very frustrating character, I found her character to be extremely well crafted. Never dull, always held my attention. An audible that I believe would engage many listeners, as a new experience or as a reawakening to this classic. Thanks for this winner!
Wordsmith, Storyteller, Musicmaker and Audiobooks editor for the Mill Valley Literary Review. Follow me for links to interviews and reviews.
For those that prefer a tame, civilized bucket list, having Madame Bovary read to you might be worth including. There is nothing to lose and much to gain by listening to a great voice talent read (Kate Reading* narrates the Penguin Classics version). Flaubert’s vision is conveyed so naturally and in such an accessible, believable tone that the translated writing – the choice of words, the construction of the sentences, the grammar – all of it - is hardly noticed at all. This, of course, is the genius of Flaubert, and testimony to the achievement of his goal: “… to write the novel ‘objectively,’ leaving the author out of it.”
In the case of Madame Bovary, Flaubert himself wondered what it would be like to “give psychological analysis the rapidity, clarity, passion of a purely dramatic narration.” And if we agree with translator Lydia Davis about Flaubert’s intentions, we get a better feeling for the importance of the sound of the work: “What he is trying to achieve in this book, instead, is a style that is clear and direct, economical and precise, and at the same time rhythmic, sonorous, musical, and ‘as smooth as marble’ on the surface, with varied sentence structures and with imperceptible transitions from scene to scene and from psychological analysis to action.” (K.L. 133 Introduction by Lydia Davis)
These rhythmic, sonorous, musical qualities can only be heard, and, once heard, perhaps felt in someplace else in mind or body. That doesn’t necessarily mean that in order to hear these qualities we must be listening to someone else. We could conceivably experience these characteristics by listening to the voice in our own head, presupposing that reading does in fact produce the mental equivalent of voice.**
Kate Reading* has narrated 234 audiobooks now available on Amazon. She has received three “Earphones Awards” and has been named by AudioFile magazine as a "Voice of the Century". And so it was no surprise when I found myself completely entranced by her reading. In Madame Bovary, she assumes different dialog voices for each of Flaubert’s many characters (not all narrators do this) and in so doing creates an image in the listener’s mind. Homais is proud and bellicose, Emma is generally soft and earnest. Charles sounds like more of a dullard than he probably is, being a doctor. Rodolphe’s voice is dark and scheming while Monsieur Leon sounds like he just smoked some wickedly strong dope.
This is one of Kate Reading's better narrations, and the material could not be more compelling. Translated by Lydia Davis (master short story writer!), the book is both light and tragic, humorous and disturbing, emotional and cerebral. Flaubert is one of the few who can do that. The tragedy of Emma and the triumphs of Homais are delicately rendered in this smart translation.
Reading reads with perfect inflections, making Emma sound airy and "arty," Charles slow and pitiful, Leon slippery, etc. No silly attempts at trying to sound male; just excellent infusions of the character's personality into his/her voice to make him/her sound believable. The speed is just right. I've heard other narrations by Kate Reading and some don't match up in quality or direction.
The writing style seems so effortless and light that you almost think Flaubert knocked it out with the wave of a hand, but as you keep listening, you realize what a brilliantly composed, tightly plotted piece this is. Also superb is Davis's introduction in the print version. It's not in the audio version, but if you can get your hands on a print (or digi) copy, by all means, read!
Flaubert's writing is absolutely beautiful. His work is almost poetic, and his storytelling, especially from Madame Bovary's point-of-view is so intricately woven that I feel I can reach out and touch her. Kate Reading does a fabulous job with this work, and does it great justice.
Madame Bovary is the character I both love and dislike at the same time. She is so real and tangible to the listener, that one cannot help but connect with her, despite her flaws.
I believe I have listened to her reading of Pride and Prejudice. I think she does a magnificent job. Her voice changes really make you forget you are listening to just one person, yet she is not overly dramatic, which might detract from the experience.
Yes. Unfortunately, I always listen on my way to and from work, so I can only listen to 15-30 minutes at a time!
I have loved this book for years without the appreciation of how, when or whom translated it from french to english. Lydia Davis does give a modern translation that perhaps will appeal to young adults. I love the humor and eloquent descriptive writing from the Eleanor Marx Aveling translation that seems to be lacking in this version. The first translation into english. 1886.
Before deciding you hate this book, try Eleanor's translation.
Clear diction, emotive reading, precise speaking that enhanced the precise gem like writing of Flaubert.
Realistic prose that told the story without injecting judgement.
Tough call. First meeting with rodolphe or last meeting with rodolphe.
Emma. Take her out to dinner, treat her well, and ask for nothing in return.
This novel gas a reputation as being one of the dullest ever written. I started it once many years ago and found it dull beyond belief. Alternating between reading and listening turned it into a wonderful literary experience.
Some may not like the nature of the story (and/or its ending). This is no feel-good story, not a "David Copperfield" (which I love). Perhaps, by now, many people realize the basic substance of the story but do not expect its ending. Lydia Davis' prose is exquisite though there are times the audible version differs from the written book.
The novel was ground-breaking in any number of ways, not the least of which is the well of human emotions that surge through one while reading it. The clunky translations of the past took away from the novel and the experience of all of the sadness, anger, disgust, contempt, pity and shame accentuated in this edition.
The narrator does an excellent job both in portraying the pathos of Emma Bovary and in stoking the listener's contempt for her.
This was just ok, the story is vapid and I did not bond or like any of the characters. I am trying to listen to all the classics, but not sure i would recommend this story.
UMM, CAN I HAVE THE AUDIO VERSION, PLZ!!
George Sand called Flaubert a "Martyr to Style". This seems accurate, his prose ache with profound meaning.
The story is not bad, but Flaubert goes into sometimes excruciating detail over some pretty inconsequential aspects of the story. I was really aching for it to be over about 4 hours before it ended. If I had been reading this, I would certainly have skipped though a lot of the detail.
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