The other characters are hard to get to know because they’re masked by Lucy’s refusal to ever really open up to her readers. Her temperament and perceptions shift and with them, the way that characters are portrayed. She’s the ultimate unreliable narrator and, rather than finding it frustrating, I loved it. Not only do you get to know Lucy through the decisions that she makes and the way she chooses to live her life but you get a sense that she’s a real person; she talks to readers sometimes, which in many books I hate but here was used well enough that it didn’t feel awkward, just perfectly in keeping with the character that you feel as though you know. There are twists where Lucy reveals that she hasn’t been entirely honest with readers and moments where something just seems…off about the tale and it lends intrigue where otherwise there wouldn’t be much. I liked the other residents of Villette and their relationships with each other (particularly Dr Bretton and his mother who lend some often welcome light relief) and with Lucy are interesting enough but there were times when the story felt slow to me and that stopped it being a sweeping glorious success. Not to mention how annoying Lucy’s friend the vapid Ginevra Fanshawe can be…I do understand that she is meant to be frustrating but still.
Overall time: Villette is sheer manipulative literary brilliance. It’s not flashy and it isn’t a breath-taking tale of adventure but it is a heartfelt story on one woman’s struggles, the people she meets and her hopes for a better future. It’s a favourite for a lot of people and a book that I imagine would stand up to re-reading better than most. It didn’t break my heart or rip my world asunder but I’m definitely glad I read it.
A word about editions: I read the free Kindle version and it didn’t include French narration. My French was enough that I usually got the gist of what was happening but quite a lot of the dialogue hops between French and English so you might want to make sure that you have an edition with translation if you want to understand every word and aren’t a fluent French speaker.
Date finished: 5 February 2014
Source: Downloaded free for Kindle
Genre: Classic; Literary fiction
First published: 1853