Not long after Stendhal's "The Charterhouse of Parma" was published, Balzac wrote a review of the book and said: "One sees perfection in everything". And he was not wrong. Almost two centuries later - it first appeared in French in 1839 - the novel still is one of the best, most funny and captivating ever. Andre Gide and Henry James were also enthusiasts of this book. Recently Jonathan Franzen listed this novel in his top five.
But, for the modern reader, the one who can't focus on sentence longer than 140 characters, what does "The Charterhouse of Parma" have to offer? To begin with, a delightful journey. The length (about 560 pages in the Penguin Classic edition) can put many readers off, but after overcoming this anxiety and getting started it is, to use a cliché, impossible to put this book down. The prose is light - not to confuse with shallow - and the narrator comments are funny.
At first, "The Charterhouse of Parma" sounds like a historical soap opera - replete of intrigue, unfulfilled love, betrayals and so on - , but the story of Fabrice del Dong, his aunt, Gina, Duchess of Sanseverina, and her lover Count Mosca has all the qualities a reader can expect. Reading this Stendhal novel is like a ride in a roller coaster. There are some inconsistencies in the narrative - characters and events appear out of the blue, and, then, the narrator says, `we haven't mentioned that... ` - but, these flaws bring colors to the book. Fabrice is an early Forrest Gump who is inserted in important historical moments, but fail to realize them - specially early in the novel when he is crazy about Napoleon, and witnesses Waterloo.
What is most appealing in Stendhal's "The Charterhouse of Parma" is his view of the human condition and the irony of politics. The emotions the characters have to face are timeless and any reader, anywhere, can relate to them. Anyone can like this novel - and you don't have to be a writer as Balzac, Gide, James or Franzen.