Review: Honoré de Balzac – Pere Goriot

Pere Goriot
Honoré de Balzac

‘Pere Goriot’, or Old Father Goriot, is a realist text which is difficult initially to understand and read. There are a number of characters, including Goriot himself and the irredeemable Rastignac, who focalize the novel. This novel is translated from French. If you want an in-depth experience of ‘real’ Paris, this will be good for you. Hit the jump for more details…

The first 100 or so pages of the novel are impossible to get into. It is all just setting the scene for the ‘action’. If you persevere, you will find some more satisfying plot developments, but nothing that really shouts at you to read on. In the end, I found myself reading just to see what would happen to poor old Goriot, who got the death I expected.

If you do suddenly find yourself attached to any of the characters, this novel is part of a set ‘The Human Comedy’. Balzac made it his mission to catalog the entirety of Parisian society, and most of this is contained within his published works. Balzac died before he completed it, but this is a project that I feel he probably never would have been satisfied with .

This novel is a great example of realism! There is a heavy focus on detailed settings, as if you are really walking the streets of Paris. A number of the characters seem like placeholders, while others are fully fleshed out. I don’t think anyone feels real emotion for the characters, for everything is already set out for them. They seem to not try escape their sorry lot, and Rastignac in particular is quite a repugnant person.

This is not something I would enjoy reading for pleasure. As a text in a literature degree, it was a good one to study though, as it was filled with details that I could use for analysis. My version has a set of essays in the second half of the book, which was interesting and useful reading. It is good to know some historical background before setting out into the book.

Keep in mind that this is translated from French, so each translator may potentially put a different spin on things. Also, if you’re going to buy it online, make sure to get the English version!

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