“The artist must be in his work as God is in creation, invisible and all-powerful; one must sense him everywhere but never see him.”
Gustave Flaubert

“The writer must be universal in sympathy and an outcast by nature: only then can he see clearly.”
― Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

vintage_parrot_250I have read only one book of Flaubert’s until now, and yet he seeped into my consciousness not through the disturbing sense of realism that comes through the characters of Madame Bovary but the tribute ‘Flaubert’s Parrot’ by Julian Barnes, which is one of the most delightful works of literary fiction I have ever read.

The narrator Geoffrey Braithwaite reflects upon literary criticism, writing and writers as he takes a pilgrimage across places related to Flaubert, and tries to reconstruct the story of the author even as he tries to locate the genuine stuffed parrot that Flaubert had on his desk when he wrote ‘Trois Contes’ (Three Tales). Carefully interwoven into this literary quest is the story of the narrator’s personal life, which is explored and finally left as ambiguous, and nearly as realistic as that of the author’s.

“Everything in art depends on execution: the story of a louse can be as beautiful as the story of Alexander. You must write according to your feelings, be sure those feelings are true, and let everything else go hang. When a line is good it ceases to belong to any school. A line of prose must be as immutable as a line of poetry.”
Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

“Books say: She did this because. Life says: She did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t. I’m not surprised some people prefer books.”
Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

I read this book at least once every year, since I first read it five years ago. Flaubert’s Parrot is a homage and celebration of writing, reading, literary criticism and in general the literary life and of literature as a way of life, as much as it is a celebration of Flaubert.

“Life … is a bit like reading. … If all your responses to a book have already been duplicated and expanded upon by a professional critic, then what point is there to your reading? Only that it’s yours. Similarly, why live your life? Because it’s yours. But what if such an answer becomes less and less convincing?”
Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

Here is my little tribute to Flaubert in The Reengineers.

“I have often thought that Walter Mitty had it in him to be more than a hen-pecked loser. Instead of living it up as a flamboyant daredevil in his dreams, he could have chosen to be a responsible man in real life, going about his work with dignity, and people may just have treated him with respect. Did his failures in life lead him to seek solace in daydreams or did his wandering mind stand in the way of his potential success? One must have triggered the other, and then it would have been both working together. An empty life drives you to fantasies of fulfilment, which then form a deadly, vicious circle which can turn you into a cartoon, as it did poor Mitty. Or lead you to ruin like Madame Bovary.”
― Indu Muralidharan, The Reengineers

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