To be honest, the only reason I’m doing a review of Pere Goriot is for the sake of completeness. I generally do a blog post on ever book I read, so I figure I should do one now.
But honestly I feel completely apathetic about the book. I bought it, years ago, after seeing the move Balzac: A Life of Passion starring Gérard Depardieu. Depardieu is a pretty amazing actor and he brought the writer to life in a way that I found fascinating, so I ran out and bought one of his books. And it sat on the shelf for years.
And now I’ve read it and wow, did it not live up to that level of anticipation. The tale is a simple one, of a young man newly come to Paris to seek his fortune. He is staying in a shabby little boarding house and that is where he meets Goirot, a retired vermicelli maker who has essentially squandered his fortune trying to keep his two spoiled daughters well-regarded in polite society. The young man, naturally, falls in love with one of the daughters, and she in her turn finds him young and handsome enough to make for an admirable affair.
I enjoy reading ‘classic’ books because they give us such a fascinating window on the times when they were written, and that’s where I feel most disappointed. Pere Goirot feels very modern when being read; that is perhaps due to it being a translation? Sure, we’re seeing events in 19th Century Paris, in a chaotic time when the class system is breaking down. And Balzac references other contemporary plays and books (which the translation team has admirably footnoted) so you get a feel of what was and was not popular, but the language itself just felt too modern to me. And Balzac himself is awfully, awfully wordy. There are a few scenes that go on for pages when a few paragraphs would easily have done.
Not a favorite of mine, and I’m not sure I’ll be reading any more Balzac.