Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: September 4, 2018
Charles Bovary, Country DoctorPortrait of a Simple Man
by Jean Améry, translated from the German by Adrian Nathan West
An NYRB Classics Original
September 2018 selection for the NYRB Classics Book Club.
Jean Améry undertakes one of the most unusual projects in twentieth-century literature: a novel-essay devoted to salvaging the poor bungler Charles Bovary from the depredations of his creator, Gustave Flaubert. As a once-promising novelist reduced to hack journalism for two decades after the Second World War, Améry had a particular sympathy for failure, and Charles Bovary, Country Doctor is his phenomenology of the loser, blending fiction and philosophy to assert the moral claims of the most famous, most risible cuckold in all of Western literature. Charles tells his side, Améry vindicates Flaubert’s hated bourgeoisie, and in the end, the Master himself winds up in the docket, forced to account for the implausibility of his own vaunted realism. At the same time, in Charles’s words, Améry offers a moving paean to the majesty of Emma Bovary herself, and to the supreme value of love.
How lucky we are that this essay-novel of Jean Améry’s, circling around Flaubert’s tragically uxorious country doctor, poor dim Charles with his beating heart and ugly hat, is available to English readers now in a nimble translation by Adrian Nathan West. In his half-fictional monologue, half-philosophical tract, Améry interrogates literature and realism through his obsession with this side character in not just a novel but the novel. A meditation on failure and the loser to rival Thomas Bernhard’s.
This is the first English translation of the work, which follows in the tradition of Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea and John Gardner's Grendel, stand-alone novels—not prequels or sequels—approaching a prior tale from a point of view more sympathetic to a major character than that taken in the original...readers will appreciate Améry's valiant efforts to rehabilitate Charles Bovary and his conventional cohort in a work which is difficult to categorize and even harder to forget.