Saturday, July 9, 2011
Historical Fiction: Madame Bovary's Daughter by Linda Urbach
Date: July 26, 2011
Acquired: requested from publisher
Read: for review (I received this book in return for a fair and honest review, yada yada yada)
Reading time: three days
From GoodReads: One year after her mother’s suicide and just one day after her father’s brokenhearted demise, twelve-year-old Berthe Bovary is sent to live on her grandmother’s impoverished farm. Amid the beauty of the French countryside, Berthe models for the painter Jean-François Millet, but fate has more in store for her than a quiet life of simple pleasures. Berthe’s determination to rise above her mother’s scandalous past will take her from the dangerous cotton mills of Lille to a convent in Rouen to the wealth and glamour of nineteenth-century Paris. There, as an apprentice to famed fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth, Berthe is ushered into the high society of which she once only dreamed. But even as the praise for her couture gowns steadily rises, she still yearns for the one thing her mother never had: the love of someone she loves in return.
My review: Whatever description of this book's plot that you read, it's probably oversimplified. Madame Bovary's Daughter consists of four parts, each spanning about two years: Berthe's stay at her grandmother's farm, her time spent working at a cotton mill, her tenure as an upstairs housemaid in a wealthy Parisian home, and her fashion career as it begins at Worth's. Covering a wide array of settings and social positions, Urbach packs a ton of information into less than 500 pages. She occasionally takes some creative license with dates and famous personages but helpfully explains all historical inaccuracies in her postscript. While the plot moves slowly, it is not uninteresting, and Urbach successfully maintains her novel's connection to Madame Bovary while simultaneously allowing Berthe to forge her own story. She also provides excellent historical details on art, fashion, and Victorian culture without making these details become overbearing and dry. I felt like the last 50 or so pages of the novel were a bit rushed, but again, Urbach has packed a lot into one novel. While Madame Bovary's Daughter can be read without prior knowledge of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, I found that this continuation of the story provided some insights into Flaubert's original characters and increased my understanding of the 1856 novel.
Maturity Factor: Some sex and other sexual situations that I would consider graphic.