Review: Cousin Bette

Posted 3 July, 2013 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

Cousin Bette
By: Honore de Balzac
Format/Source: eBook; my copy

Poor, plain spinster Bette is compelled to survive on the condescending patronage of her socially superior relatives in Paris: her beautiful, saintly cousin Adeline, the philandering Baron Hulot and their daughter Hortense. Already deeply resentful of their wealth, when Bette learns that the man she is in love with plans to marry Hortense, she becomes consumed by the desire to exact her revenge and dedicates herself to the destruction of the Hulot family, plotting their ruin with patient, silent malice.

Up next in my tour de force in classic French literature is Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac. I’ve heard of him every now and then in passing but I’ve never read any of his work until now. It was between reading this title and Pere Goriot and this book won out because it sounded like a curious character drama. May contain some spoilers ahead!

This book is part of the Books on France Reading Challenge 2013 that I am participating in.

What did I just read?

Not my gif; I found this posted on ONTD and it was just perfect

This is the first time in a long while where I found myself slogging through a classic novel. I didn’t want to wholly abandon it because it was my first Balzac novel but somewhere in the first third of the novel, I just gave up caring for these characters and the plot. There was just too much melodrama; characters would go behind people’s backs and do things (whether it’s corrupt practices and abuse of public office or carrying on an affair or two), there would be a confrontation where there’s a lot of weeping and exaggerated expressions of inadequacy and remorse followed by a brief interlude of promising to do the right thing but then going back and carrying on as before (this primarily applies to the Baron and his wife Adeline but this could almost apply to the other characters in this novel just as well). It just felt so drawn out and endless.

It didn’t help that there were no chapter breaks in my eBook copy (I’m guessing this is the same for the physical copy?).

I initially understood why Lisbeth (the titular character) sought to exact revenge on the Hulots, her relatives, but after a while I felt as though there was no character development on her part and her rage just kept going on and on (until is consumed her to death). I felt like there was just no development on her account or any of the other characters.

All of these things coupled with Balzac’s prose just wholly disengaged me from the story; there was just something about his prose that didn’t really click with me. Again, it might be the eBook version of the novel where the translation isn’t the best. There’s no doubt that Balzac had some interesting commentary about French society during the time period that he wrote it but it was hard to appreciate or reflect on it when I didn’t care at all to what happened to the characters.

So I turn the question over to you: have you read Balzac’s Cousin Bette? What did you think of it? If you liked it more than I did, why? I’m just curious, maybe I wasn’t in the right mood to read it…

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Learn more about the author on Wikipedia || Order this book from the Book Depository

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