Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Balzac Project - Lost Illusions

Lost Illusions (La Comédie Humaine)Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Balzac's Lost Illusions is a massive literary undertaking, and an attempt to delve deep into the world of humanity with all its great deeds and basest desires. Yet, taking the entire volume of Balzac's Human Comedy into perspective, Lost Illusions is nothing but a small piece of the enormous mosaic this author created in the short span of a decade.

Like with all his works I read to date, Lost Illusions offers its readers spectacular writing, well developed characters, just enough but not too much backstory, and a purely human conflict with multitude of players affecting the final outcome.

While most of the works in the Human Comedy take place in Paris, Lost illusions offers a glimpse of the life in the countryside; nevertheless, the ambitions there are not much different, the nobles are just as bad (if not worse) than their Parisian counterparts, and the long-reaching allure of the Parisian society finds a fertile ground amidst the country nobles.

The story opens quite simply with an old man, a printing press, and a child in the beautiful French countryside. The child goes to study the art of printing in Paris, the father sees him as his successor, and there is the making of a bright future, of growing business, of independence, and a happy life.

Readers familiar only with contemporary genre works will likely expect a happy-ever-after, and probably wonder why there are five hundred pages yet to be read in the book. Ha, they do not know Balzac.

In a few pages, the printing press turns out to be an aging building with antiquated technology, the father shows his darker side and his avarice, and the son, while educated and humble, lacks any balls whatsoever.

As the pages turn, more and more characters make their appearance, some nice, some mean, and some downright ugly. The list of main players quickly grows to more than a few, and the plot thickens.

Without disclosing any of the plot (and there are several plots running at once), I must bow and show my respect to M. Balzac. Lost Illusions is one heck of a novel, and one heck of a study of humanity, at its best and at its worst. Balzac, as expected, throws some unexpected punches, stirs some unforeseen troubles, and lets you get down to the muck and get dirty while you are at it. He knows humanity, he knows what makes us tick, and he knows how to shine the light from just the right angle.

Bravo, sir!

That being said . . . there are those who connect with Lucien and disregard David. I could not. Lucien is his own character, and yes, he plays a large part in this story. David, however, David is the story. I can relate to David better than I can relate to any character in this work.

I'm still a bot torn between Pere Goriot and Lost Illusions. If I had to make a choice, I would not know which one I liked better. The two works are very different, and yet very similar at the same time. Both books are on my 'favorites' list.

One final note - some reviews mentioned how different Rastignac was in this novel from how he was portrayed in Pere Goriot. Balzac has some two thousand characters circulating throughout his work, and making appearances here and there, sometimes playing a major, yet other time a very minor, part. Balzac's narrators are describing the characters, and each narrator sees a person differently. Also, we must keep in mind the transformation Rastignac underwent following Goriot's funeral, and the last lines of the novel.

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