Bouvard and PécuchetRead about Peter Brooks's favorite Flaubert book.
Flaubert’s strangest but in some ways most characteristic work—left unfinished at his death—in which he exercises a kind of cosmic irony on the pretentions of his time and his contemporaries. His main figures, Bouvard and Pécuchet—seemingly Tweedledum and Tweedledee, but they do eventually become distinguishable one from another—are copyists who retire and move to Normandy and undertake a number of do-it-yourself projects studied up in books—always with dire results. From farming to horticulture to history writing to child rearing, all their experiments tend to prove the fatuousness of most human knowledge. Yet their comic misadventures eventually lead them to a mentality like their creator’s: perceiving human stupidity and no longer being able to tolerate it. The work of a master ironist no longer restraining himself in unleashing his contempt for his surroundings. There is a really great translation of the novel by Mark Polizzotti, published by Dalkey Archive.
Bouvard and Pécuchet also appears on Adam Ehrlich Sachs's list of ten of the funniest books, Michael Foley's top ten list of absurd classics, John Mullan's list of ten of the best unfinished literary works, and John Sutherland's list of the best books about listing.