Madame Bovary of the Suburbs by Sophie Divry trans. by Alison Anderson

I haven’t read Flaubert’s Madame Bovary but understand it is about a Dr’s wife who is bored to tears with her life and takes refuge in an affair. Her spending habits leave them in massive debt as material wealth is very important to her and the main themes are lack of communication, roles of women and the rising middle classes.

The book tells the story of M.A. from her birth to her death. Born to parents who owned the local garage with her father often working as a mechanic, her early life is told in staccato snippets, memories that don’t provide the whole picture but highlights and just enough to make her a little more intriguing; someone with a temper, enjoying the freedom of your parents going out and leaving you on your own, answering back in class but above all bored.

And so life goes on – university, marriage, work , children, work and an affair, menopause and the need for counselling growing older and finally relaxing with grandchildren. It’s a perfectly conventional journey through life and one which M.A. rails against for most of her life, always waiting, waiting for the BIG thing which probably couldn’t be described. Is this why we are so inisistent that nowadays we record our gratitude for the little things, taking pleasure where we are, because the big, exciting things may never happen?

The book constantly steps forward and imagines what might happen and then steps back again and continues with what did happen, that place where we imagine all the pathways open to us at various junctures but then this is what happens. It seems to be constantly saying stay in the present, don’t imagine too much because you will only be disappointed. We get a wonderful, pages long description of preparing for friends to come over for a meal, the anxiety that everything goes well and that the food is good with a couple of lines and minutes when you relax. It has all gone well but then you have to start on the tidying up.

You went up the stairs, you felt rather heavy, rather sad as you closed your eyes, kissing the man at your side who was already asleep. It was only a meal, after all, even if it had been good.


So even doing something well doesn’t bring about any changes. The book is written with a lightness and the translation is good enough to show the changes in how we speak over the decades but how depressing to be trapped in a life and roles that bore you and finding yourself unable to shake out of it. The boredom was never communicated and so nothing changed. The only thing is, I bet many of us can see elements of our own lives lived through M.A.

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