Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Obsession and Love: Like Death by Guy de Maupassant

Elegantly translated from the French by Richard Howard, Guy de Maupassant's novel  Like Death  is set in late 19th c Paris but probes the human heart in a timeless revelation of the foibles of love.

"Fixed ideas have the gnawing tenacity of incurable diseases. Once within a soul they devour it..."

Oliver Bertin, rich, famous, and the recipient of many honors, had earned early fame with his painting Cleopatra. Early success curtailed his talent. Now on the threshold of old age, having painted all the society ladies, he is casting about for inspiration. He has been involved with the still beautiful Anne, the wife of a Count, since painting her portrait when a young woman. Theirs is a cozy friendship, over the early throes of romance, yet their love affair remains an important affirmation. But age brings regret for Bertin, ruing his lonely bachelorhood, while Ann notices every mark of age and fears Bertin will find a younger woman and yet marry.

Anne's daughter returns to the family home after years away at school. At eighteen, Annette is the image of her mother and charms Bertin with love for Anne all over again through the visual reminder of her youth.

Anne notes Bertin's increasing attention to her daughter, throwing her into a jealous obsession, while Bertin clings the more to Anne in a rekindled love. In the end, Bertin realizes he is an old man tormented by fruitless desire.

"Do we know, do we ever know why a woman's face suddenly has the power of a poison upon us?" 

Bertin's unhealthy love of his lover's daughter, and Anne's self-defeating hysteria over turning forty, do not separate them, but in the end brings them closer together.

I enjoyed my first foray into the novels of Guy de Maupassant. I think this story would translate beautifully to the screen as a historical drama with its theme of unhealthy obsession. I discovered this article in the New Yorker by Richard Brody addressing why de Maupassant's works are perfect for the screen: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-writer-who-sparks-the-finest-movie-adaptations

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Like Death
Guy de Maupassant
translated by Richard Howard
New York Review Book Classics
Publication Date February 14, 2017
ISBN: 9781681370323

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