2018 Book #10 - Colonel Chabert, by Honoré de Balzac

Can't believe I've never read Blazac before. What a treat! I can see how he influenced Dickens. His characters have a vividity bordering on the hallucinatory. He's a bit less of a fever dream than Dickens, but still highly pitched.

This short novel tells the tale of a famous colonel in the Napoleonic wars who is given up for dead and thrown in a mass grave in Russia. After slowly recovering in the hut of some kindly peasants, he slowly makes his way on foot back to France, a vagabond. There, unable to legally establish his identity, he appeals to a brilliant young lawyer, who, surprisingly, takes his case. The scene where he tells his tale to the lawyer is unforgettable and was what put me in mind of Dickens. 

The tale moves pretty quickly but is not without detail. In fact, he tends to build up his characters by describing what they do, how they look, their surroundings, rather than talking about them, which I believe was a major innovation in the early 19th century.

"Balzac?" you may think, "That would be ponderous and slow." It's not. It's a ringing pleasure from start to finish. The older I get, the more I love 19th century novels. I expect Balzac to become one of my favorites, up there with Trollope and Dickens.


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