Sunday, November 18, 2007

book review - The Immoralist

This is not the easiest of books to get through. Curling up on the sofa with the fire blazing away and a copy of this novel by Andre Gide is not an image that springs to mind.

Part of the problem is that you never anticipate it being that much of an enjoyable read after you read the preface that warns that Michel the main character should not be judged too harshly. After that you expect a story that is not that easy and Gide serves one up.

There are several things that constitute the immoralist ranging from his views on God to his increasing interest in young boys. But after some reflection what stands out most is his attitude towards his wife. The story starts with him newly married going on honeymoon and discovering that he has tuberculosis on his journey. He starts coughing blood and for a while it looks like the worst might happen in Algeria as he waits in his bedroom unable to move. But the love of his wife and his own determination see him through to a recovery.

He then starts wandering and coming across Arab boys that first spark jealousy because of their youth and strength but then after seems to spark arousal. He carries that with him back through his travels to Paris and then throughout his return journey back into Africa.

What Michel starts doing is rejecting everything that is around him so in his historical lectures he refutes the mainstream views about the past; he makes it clear to his wife when he is ill that he believes God cannot help him and does not have a place in his life; he then shows an odd attitude to helping his wife after she has lost their child and herself starts to decline in health.

As his wife starts to slip into a spiral that ends with death Michel spends all of his fortune travelling around Europe to find a place to make her better but is drawn back to Africa. Any idea that he is being motivated by a desire to help her by returning to a place he found health is quickly dispelled by his movements. In order to try to meet up with one of his favourites from his first trip he moves his wife around too often weakening her health.

Finally when Michel is out carrying on with one of the older boys and his mistress he returns in the morning to find his wife dying. Yet he seems to feel no remorse sticking with a philosophy he outlined to her earlier in her illness that maybe the weak deserve to die.

He tells his story to three friends who are quite shocked by its contents and also his continuing apparent lack of remorse. To the end Michel is showing that he can go against the mainstream morals of his friends and his society.

The problem for me with the book is that just like Fruits of the Earth, the other Gide that I have read, in essence there could have been a great story there but because of the way he writes and his sometimes myopic concentration on feelings and red herrings that should be allowed to pass it feels like a struggle getting through the book.

Version read – Penguin paperback

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