Saturday, January 5, 2013

Book 36-Le Pere Goriot (50th Book)

I liked book 36- Le Pere Goriot. It feels good to say that. I have felt like a book snob in the last few review since I just haven't fallen in love with  any of them. What makes this even sweeter is that Le Pere Goriot is a French novel and I haven't liked the last few French novels I have read. This book focused on the poor class rather than the wealthy though and for that reason I enjoyed it quite a bit. It is set in a French rooming house run by Madame Vaquer,  a lady who is herself down on her luck. The story centres around two central characters the poor Rastignac and the doting father, Le Pere Goriot. It is the encounter between these two that shows the effects of poverty working out in the lives of two very different people.

I think it is the books refusal to candy coat the wickedness of society or of humanity that makes me like this book. It is very much reminiscent of Russian novels to me in that way. It is a book to me, that feels like real life. I didn't feel enlightened by any deep insights into humanity with this novel, but I was thoroughly engaged in the story and I finished it quickly.

Here are a few of the insights the book makes about the dark side of life.

"mankind are not perfect"

"man is not the same, high or low, or wherever he is"

"Everyone believes in virtue but who is virtuous"

"Indifference to the fate of others is a matter of course in this selfish world"

One of the most interesting portrayals in the book is Le Pere Goriot. He is a father that is doggedly devoted to his daughters and his love destroys both himself and his daughters. It is the clearest example of codependency I have ever seen. This psychological problem was most clearly shown to me in my first job out of university where I worked at a Christian women's home for a few months. After completing a psychology degree, but feeling very unskilled I was happy to have a job in the field even though it was not well paid. One woman there struggled with codependency and it came out in all sorts of ways. She told me one day, how she had ended up in the home and it was as a result of giving all her money to a aboriginal tribe who was trying to buy a historical site and ending up homeless herself. Goriot is not far off this real life example. Although being generous is a good thing, giving at the expense of yourself to the point of ruin is both pointless and unattractive. For those who have struggled in life, finding an identity as a helper can be a crutch that is relied on too heavily in all kinds of troubles. This is where it becomes problematic.

Although it is not my favorite book of all time, it is certainly a worthy read, and a find I am happy to say I stumbled upon as a result of reading the books on the Novel 100 list. It has given me determination to continue to read the books on the list in hopes of discovering more enjoyable reads I would have never picked up on my own.

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