304 books ago, I reviewed Bel Ami, my first Maupassant novel and, coincidentally, the one he wrote just before this one. Thankfully, although it still deals with the worst of our fallen nature, at least you have some sympathy and understanding for the characters involved. With Bel Ami, I just wanted to punch the protagonist in the face.
Pierre and Jean are brothers, young men on their verge of finding their ways in the world. The underlying frictions caused by their very different natures rupture when one of them becomes the sole beneficiary of the heavily-laden will of a fairly obscure old friend.
It’s not just the brothers who have a hard time interpreting this injustice; the event also threatens to destroy the entire family as various skeletons are let loose from their closets to redefine relationships in unexpected ways.
Maupassant can definitely write and he does a very good job in what is a very short novel of constructing the characters with enough substance that the realism comes across quite forcefully. You find yourself siding with pretty much everyone except the father and that’s only because he seems too reflective to grasp what’s really happening.
In writing this way, Maupassant cleverly engages your sympathies and challenges you to evaluate your response to the moral dilemma which subsequently confronts you when the truth is revealed. That’s clever and, at the time it was written, would have created far more impact than in our much more liberal days. It’s a great example of what the novel is for: a portal to see our very own selves.
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style
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