Thursday, 24 January 2013

Book 2 of 2013: Eugenie Grandet

This year I decided to start reading some of the books from the book 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (mine is the 2008 edition, it appears that they've released a newer version in the last year). I'm quite impressed with the number that I've actually already read, there are some that I've visited already during this OU course, and there are some which I've wanted to read for a while (so I'm hoping this will serve as motivation to actually do that).

When I considered reading all these books before, I realised that to read all of them it would take approximately 80 years and would cost goodness knows how much if I wanted to make sure I had a copy of each book. Which is where getting a Kindle last year has made this slightly more practical.

I decided to begin this self-imposed challenge with Eugenie Grandet mainly because it began with an E which I needed for my HTV Winter Challenge, and also because it was one of the ones available as a free download for my Kindle.
It tells the story of Eugenie Grandet, hence the title, though the story is mostly focused on her father who is generally known as Grandet or Pere Grandet. He's a miser, incredibly tight with money and very strict with his wife and daughter. Towards the beginning of the story Grandet's nephew, Charles, comes to visit the family and at the same time they receive news that his father has killed himself due to being heavily in debt. There's the hint of a romance between Eugenie and Charles, before he is sent away to make a man of himself in the West Indies.
It's only 180 pages, so I thought it would be a nice quick read after the relatively long The Fellowship of the Ring. I was wrong. For such a short book, it's a surprisingly long read. I struggled to get into it, and I struggled to get through it, until about the 75% mark when I was able to whizz through to the end quite quickly.
I think part of the problem I had with it is that it is quite repetitive. There are two rival families who each want their young male heir to marry Eugenie so there are various scenes dealing with that; Grandet doesn't like spending money, but makes a lot through his business deals which are frequently recounted. You feel like you've read it before, especially because I didn't actually understand the financial stuff - not only was it dealing with something I don't know much about, it was also talking about French money two hundred years ago. I was way out of my comfort zone.
The character of Grandet was really unlikeable, I guess that was kind of the point. But I also never really warmed to Eugenie or her mother. I realise the story set during a time when men and women's roles were very different, but they just came across as doormats. I was hoping that with time Eugenie would stand up to her father, which she kind of did but then went back to being a bit of a doormat. Charles also disappointed me; he was a bit of a jerk.
As much as I'm sure this is a valuable example of Honore de Balzac's writing, or of French writing from that period, or whatever, I wouldn't say it's one of the greatest 1001 books in the world. I'm glad I read it because I can tick it off my list (along with the letter E in the word Winter), but I'm glad I finished it and it's not something I'm likely to revist.

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