Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fortnightly Book, January 24

Si tu me possèdes, tu posséderas tout.
Mais ta vie m'appartiendra. Dieu l'a voulu ainsi.
Désire, et te désirs seront accomplis.
Mais régle tes souhaits sur ta vie. Elle est la.
A chaque vouloir je décroitrai comme tes jours.
Me veux-tu? Prends. Dieu t'exaucera. Soit!

The fortnightly book is Honoré de Balzac's La Peau de Chagrin, or as the title is in the English translation I have, The Wild Ass's Skin. The Wikipedia article for it is unusually good, so I will quote from it:

Set in early 19th-century Paris, it tells the story of a young man who finds a magic piece of shagreen that fulfills his every desire. For each wish granted, however, the skin shrinks and consumes a portion of his physical energy. La Peau de chagrin belongs to the Études philosophiques group of Balzac's sequence of novels, La Comédie humaine.

Before the book was completed, Balzac created excitement about it by publishing a series of articles and story fragments in several Parisian journals. Although he was five months late in delivering the manuscript, he succeeded in generating sufficient interest that the novel sold out instantly upon its publication. A second edition, which included a series of twelve other "philosophical tales", was released one month later.

Although the novel uses fantastic elements, its main focus is a realistic portrayal of the excesses of bourgeois materialism....

The use of fantasy elements, in this case a magic shagreen, to make an otherwise realistic story serve a more abstract (in Balzac's terminology 'philosophical') function in representing the human condition is always interesting, and, while Balzac is quite uneven, I've generally enjoyed his work.

The version I have is bundled with another small novel, The Quest for the Absolute, which also uses fantasy elements, in this case from alchemy, to 'philosophize' a tale. I intend to read it, as well, although it might get cut if time becomes an issue.

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