Taken as a whole, Balzac’s works mirror his time, and what Brooks shows us here is the making of that mirror. Following a brief introduction, he devotes each chapter to a principal character in nine of what he considers Balzac’s most illustrative works...in effect looking over the novelist’s shoulder as he creates his fictional beings. The result is a more nuanced and intimate portrait than can be found in a conventional biography ... clear, insightful, jargon-free, and overall a genuine pleasure to read.
Unwieldy for beginners, a bit superfluous for scholars, Balzac’s Lives will best serve the intermediate Balzacian: someone who has read Pere Goriot, Eugenie Grandet, and Lost Illusions and wants to know what holds them all together ... Brooks makes a convincing argument that there is much to learn in Balzac for anyone willing to buck the trend.
Loosely connected biographical sketches of Balzac’s central characters sandwiched between two chapters of insightful literary analysis ... Unfortunately, after a provocative introduction to his approach in this 'oblique biography,' the author’s retelling of the life stories of Balzac’s main characters reads more like a set of CliffsNotes for The Human Comedy ... Brooks reminds us that Balzac’s vast imagined social world derived from his being able to write down all that was in his head. But getting inside the head and illuminating the inner workings of one of the world’s preeminent novelists is not the same as summarizing his characters’ lives or even their dreams and daydreams ... As Brooks knows well, we read fiction to know the world, not the author. Balzac imagined a world of people with rich, intertwined stories. This retelling of these stories pales in comparison.