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Paperback review: Memoirs of a Madman and November, by Gustave Flaubert


“Why write these pages? What are they good for?” begins Flaubert’s unfocused, rambling first-person story, “Memoirs of a Madman”, written when he was 15.

The answer, I think, was to get lots of bad writing out of his system so he could go on to become one of the great 19th-century novelists. Another story, “Biblomania”, is more tightly focused, and does actually have a narrative, about a fanatical Spanish book-collector who can hardly read; it feels like a rejected draft by Poe. “November” is the story of a young man’s sentimental longings, his virginity-loss and then  his ageing and death. Would these stories be of interest if they weren’t by Flaubert? Probably not. But then, they are by Flaubert.