07 May, 2008

Be careful what you wish for

Finally finished Balzac's La peau de chagrin, which was an odd little book. I was expecting to find Balzac's style much tougher going that I actually did: clause upon clause, and constantly breaking off to offer a little aphorism here and there, but I actually relaxed into it pretty quickly. It's the story of Raphael who, when about to commit suicide, comes across a mysterious little antique shop where he buys a piece of ass's skin which grants wishes. Every time he wishes for something, the skin gets smaller until it disappears and he dies. And on the way he meets an evil temptress, and then a sweet, innocent young girl who he falls in love with. So it's very fairytale-like, but at the same time Balzac describes absolutely everything in detail: rooms, clothes, street scenes. This makes it very uncanny, the contrast between the nineteenth century Paris and the supernatural event which take place. Some of it I didn't understand and will have to go back to: particularly the banquet scene, where Raphael and his friends discuss politics and philosophy in a sort of mad drunken discourse. [21]

Phil's review of it is here.

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