Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
When Emma Rouault marries Charles Bovary she imagines she will pass into the life of luxury and passion that she reads about in sentimental novels and women's magazines. But Charles is a dull country doctor, and provincial life is very different from the romantic excitement for which she yearns. In her quest to realize her dreams she takes a lover, and begins a devastating spiral into deceit and despair.
This is an important message on being happy with your lot. Emma Bovary lives her life in a state of constantly wanting more in order to be truly happy. Once she gets that something more, she needs something else, and the cycle begins again. She's never content, sinks into a severe depression, and goes on to ruin her life both morally and financially. This was spurred on entirely by her love of sentimental novels - take note, readers!
Oh, Emma. You made me sorry to have left my tiny violin in my desk at work, where I usually need it. But your husband with his silly witticisms, his complete lack of sophistication, his sheer love for you, and his need to run and tell you about his day as soon as he arrived home, really made me feel for you. You ate so well, but not from the best dishes, your clothes were fine and gorgeous, but weren't hand embroidered by blind nuns, and that grass? It was just a lot greener a bit further over, wasn't it? Oh, how I felt for you. Life really is unfair.
Flaubert writes beautifully, and does many exciting things with his prose to emphasise his points. He juxtaposes one of Emma's wild affairs with the town's incredibly provincial farmer's market. His realism is completely vivid and remarkable, and he portrays his characters so well, that his dim view on humanity seeps through perfectly.
Emma's story is from the nineteenth century, but it's amazing how much of it can resonate today. Emma was someone looking for perfection, and not unreasonably so. She was looking for the life of an aristocrat, someone beautiful and in love, someone wealthy and astute. She had been shown, and told, that this life was available, and this life was what she strove to achieve by any means possible. In 2014, we have people who will completely sell themselves out to gain entry to the world of celebrity; people who see airbrushed images of 'perfection' and ruin their body and/or their finances to achieve the body they want; and people who cheat on their partners in an attempt to reach that perfect soulmate, not realising that different people have different qualities, and to reach that 'ideal' relationship takes a lot of work and patience - it's not a lucky dip.
A beautifully written, morbid and dark reminder that life is a journey, and no one likes the destination - be happy with what you have. It's timeless, still speaking to us after 150 years, and still right on the money (no pun intended).