24 April 2008

Honore de Balzac - The Quest of the Absolute

Balzac wrote this during a period of high activity in which he completed Eugenie Grandet and Pere Goriot. With such a volume of output, it's unsurprising that some will be of low quality, and this novel is far below the other two.

This is one of Balzac's contes philosophiques, alongside Peau de chagrin, and is about alchemy. The plot is threadbare and repetitive - a Flemish nobleman, Balthazar von Claesz, spends his family's fortune on his obsessive research into 'the Absolute', the force that underpins all chemical and electrical reactions. His wife dies of despair, his daughter attempts to ring-fence the remaining property for the children but he borrows against it, she builds the fortune up again, and he spends that. And that's it.

It's a very sloppy, irritating book, with unbelievable characters given overstated emotions. I can see that the story of Balthazar mirrors Balzac's own obsessiveness and compulsive spending, but that doesn't lend any merit to the novel.



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