The Red and the Black

The Red and the Black by Stendhal

Although not a long book (at least not my idea of “long”), The Red and the Black took me some time to get through … and I have mixed feelings about it.

The first half of the book was not exactly boring, but perhaps that was only because I was searching for clues as to the author’s intent (which I am still in the dark about).

Having read the first half a few months ago, I had to take a break from it in order to finish knitting this thing before my aunt’s retirement party …

and after becoming sidetracked by a few other books & projects, I finally returned to The Red and the Black (and finished it earlier today). I found the second half much more interesting … though still somewhat confusing.

Several times throughout the book the narrator interrupts to express various views about the characters, and I found myself questioning the sincerity of this narrator, and wondering whether I was supposed to believe this was the author, Stendhal, or perhaps another “character” of sorts. I found the narrator’s supposed liking for Julian Sorel, the Napoleon-loving, proud, ambitious, amoral, narcissistic “hero” of the story, hard to believe. It seemed like the narrator’s insistence on referring to Julian as the “hero” (whether serious or not), was a point pushed fairly often, and it left me wondering what I was *supposed* to think. Had Julian, or any of the characters for that matter (they were all pretty awful & not particularly “likeable”) … had these characters been painted a little bit worse, I think I would have thought it a fairly straightforward satirical work. However, for at least the first half of the book I was on the fence …

The book is very much a psychological study (which I enjoyed), and having a fairly dark, cynical view of human nature myself, I never really thought of the characters as abnormal or unusually “bad” … so it that way, it came off more as honesty & realism. But I do feel like the satirical nature of the work became clearer as I progressed through the book … though maybe I just think that because I’ve read too many works satirizing society/class structure, the church, politics, etc., and it’s easy for me to lump it together with the familiar. In any event, as I got used to the author’s style I began to enjoy the book more, and the second half was also more entertaining to read. Because I had a hard time “getting” the main characters (understanding or relating to their thoughts, emotions or behaviors), I never knew what to expect. The interaction between Mathilde and Julian in particular I found surprisingly amusing … I think I even laughed out loud a few times at their insane mind games. Overall, I enjoyed the time spent inside the character’s heads, exploring their thoughts and motivations … but I’m not sure I will be up for another work by Stendhal any time soon.