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on 6 September 2017
I really enjoyed this book and read it very quickly. I knew very little about Victor Hugo so found it fascinating and poignant in equal measure.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 July 2011
The Reinvention of Love is one of those stories that is so bizarre and strange that it could only be based on factual events. Essentially it is a good, old-fashioned love triangle set in mostly in Paris in the period from the 1830s to the 1860s; a world where fighting duels is a commonplace event. The triangle features the great French literary writer Victor Hugo, his wife Adèle and the altogether strange critic Charles Saint-Beuve who narrates much of this story, with brief breaks for Adèle's side of events and some letters written by the Hugo's youngest daughter, also called Adèle (but let's call her as she was known to her family as Dédé to avoid confusion).

Humphreys notes that she was attracted to the story by the fact that Saint-Beuve's story is both fascinating and by the fact that it has not been dealt sympathetically to date and this is what she seeks to redress. In some ways she succeeds although quite frankly at some points in the story it appears that what Adèle was most attracted to about Saint-Beuve is that he simply wasn't the work-obsessed and driven Victor. I think it's fair to say that her taste in men didn't have much to recommend itself to the reader.

Saint-Beuve was an early admirer of Hugo's poetry and the two men struck up a strong friendship, although the critic's growing feelings for Victor's wife and a general sense of envy at both Hugo's success and his life certainly served to complicate the relationship. What is most strange about the whole affair is that Saint-Beuve had a secret condition, which comes as such a shock to the reader that I won't spoil by revealing here, but suffice to say that it makes Adèle's feelings for him more difficult to understand. It's fair to say that Saint-Beuve's self image and jealousy is somewhat more understandable though in this context, although it does raise far more searching questions of what was going on in Adèle's mind which is perhaps less clearly revealed. Perhaps she just wanted to be appreciated for who she was.

One particularly nice addition is the inclusion of some photographs and images of the key people and locations. Certainly Saint-Beuve was no oil painting and I think we can pretty much rule out superficial looks as Adèle's driving attraction.

There is a smattering of cross dressing going on throughout too - a contemporary and friend of Saint-Beuve was George Sand, a female writer who always presented herself as a man, while Saint-Beuve sometimes resorted to a disguise of Charlotte to meet with Adèle. Even more worryingly Adèle seems to have developed somewhat separate feelings for both Charles and Charlotte Saint-Beuve, despite the fact that they are one and the same. However, it is later on in the story when Dédé also takes to dressing up in male attire that some of the implications of what she must have seen in her childhood with her mother and Charles/Charlotte have sad ramifications.

It's a story that is often amusing, Saint-Beuve has an acerbic and often bitterly amusing line of thought, while the whole situation would be funny if it were not so sad. However, the Hugo's own family suffered tragedy which have ramifications to the story. However, the focus here is very much on the less famous - namely Saint-Beuve and to a lesser extent on Dédé.

It's such a strange situation that it is a fascinating read.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 September 2015
This decidedly strange novel deals with the love affair between Charles Saint-Beuve and Victor Hugo's wife Adele, and its aftermath. Saint-Beuve was initially Victor Hugo's friend and writing comrade. He and Adele became obsessed with each other after several meetings at Hugo's home, and before long took to meeting secretly, in churches and in hotel rooms. Saint-Beuve - who had believed he would never have a serious relationship with a woman, due to his strange hermaphrodite condition (about which he tells the reader in detail) - sometimes disguised himself to meet Adele as a woman, 'Charlotte', which seems to have added spice to their affair. The lack of sex bothered Adele not at all - she'd had enough with her virile husband. Unfortunately, even if the love affair was relatively chaste, Hugo still saw it as a betrayal - and his discovery of the affair marked the end of his friendship with Saint-Beuve, and eventually Saint-Beuve's dealings with the Hugo family, who ended up exiles in Guernsey due to Hugo's political troubles. Then, years later, Saint-Beuve and Adele met again - in order to deal with the bizarre behaviour of her daughter, also Adele (DeDe), who had gone mad and run away to Canada.

Humphreys narrates the story of Saint-Beuve, Adele and DeDe in clear, well-informed prose, and paints a deft picture of 19th-century Paris, and the stifling gentility of Guernsey. She's also good at describing Adele Hugo's frustrations, and Saint-Beuve's loneliness. It's hardly a cheering read, but in its quiet way it's an arresting one, and you always want to read on. The DeDe sections, largely narrated in letters, are more feverish in tone and more disturbing, particularly the sections narrated by DeDe, but also powerful. I think - bar the occasional slip - that Humphreys's research is pretty sound, and the photographs of the main characters dotted throughout the book are certainly fascinating.

So why only three stars? Firstly, I would have preferred a bit more narrative from Adele, and a tiny bit less from Saint-Beuve, whose rather flowery style could grate at times (though his liking for cats endeared him to me). I felt that at times Humphreys concentrated too much on Saint-Beuve's oddness, and not enough on his considerable talents as a scholar and his fascination with religion. But most of all, I felt Victor Hugo was unfairly treated. This book, for all its pathos and skill, was another in the line of 'genius-bashing', with Hugo depicted as a selfish, greedy, rapacious man, who appeared, after the days of his early friendship with Saint-Beuve, to have few redeeming characteristics. I'm sure, like many great men, that Hugo was far from perfect, but I think it's important to remember George Henry Lewes's statement that great virtues can exist in a man of genius as well as vices. Here I think we got all Victor Hugo's vices, but not nearly enough of the genius. This, coupled with the inevitable low-key ending of the book (Saint-Beuve died of a painful condition, Adele Hugo's last years were dull and sad, Adele junior went mad) made it rather depressing. Still, there was a lot to admire, and I'll definitely read more Helen Humphreys.
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VINE VOICEon 22 May 2016
This novel tells the story of the unusual love affair between Adele Hugo, wife of the famous 19th century French novelist Victor Hugo, and the journalist and much less well known writer Charles Sainte-Beuve. The bulk of the book is taken up by sections told from their respective points of view as their lives intertwine then separate over the course of several decades. In its essence, though, the novel is really about the effect that Victor Hugo as a giant of French literature and culture for five decades had on those around him, an effect that in some ways damages and even destroys most of their lives. The affair, not unsurprisingly, affects Victor's friendship with Charles, and also tears Adele Hugo apart emotionally as she finds she cannot leave her children for the sake of her lover. Of Victor's four children, only his younger daughter Dede (Adele) outlived him and she was in an insane asylum for 40 years. Her growing dislocation from sanity is probably the saddest thread in the novel. Part of the reason for it was the effect of the tragic death of her elder sister in a boating accident with her new husband, when Dede was still a child. Victor's two sons and Adele follow him into exile in the Channel Isles after he falls foul of Napoleon III and this prevents them from taking places in French society and they waste away their lives. It is almost as though Victor Hugo is a such a colossally bright figure that those around him wither away or burn up. An interesting and slightly unusual novel.
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on 3 August 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A complex love story between a sixty-odd literary/art critic in mid-19th century Paris and Victor Hugo's wife. Lovely first person narrative (haven't read one in ages!), slow-paced with rich descriptions of atmosphere-charged settings. It didn't knock me off my feet from page one, but worth sticking with it. I thought the insertion of portraits for Adele, Victor Hugo and especially Charles Sainte-Beuve wasn't such a good idea, as none of them look the part for such a romantic story.
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on 5 November 2012
This is about the affair Victor Hugo's wife had with another, lesser-known author. I found it very interesting, as several other authors of the time came into the story, and various details of Paris were mentioned. I am sure I would have found it a good read even if I had not just finished reading 'Les Miserables'.
The characters were not shown as wholly good or wholly bad.
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What an amazing story - could hardy believe what I was reading.

Loved the story of how someone with a truly serious sexual impediment was able to continue a sexual relationship with the wife of one of French literature's most famous authors.

Brilliantly written - 5-stars to the author for this incredible journey.[...]
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on 5 December 2012
Beautifully written and a fascinating story. The section towards the end feels slightly awkward in terms of the overall structure, hence only four stars. I have been looking for other works by the author since reading this.
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VINE VOICEon 21 September 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The affair between Adele Hugo, Victor Hugo's wife, and Charles Saint-Beuve has gone down in history as a mistake made by everyone; a doomed love affair that simply never should have started. Chock full of details that only history can make believeable, like Saint-Beuve's hermaphroditism and cross-dressing, and the intoxicating world of 19th century France, the book is really a love story about two people who have made mistakes but have never ceased longing for one another.

I knew I wanted to read another book by Humphreys after Coventry and she certainly hasn't let me down here. The book is short, but it covers thirty years of the couple's affair, even after one of them has passed on. We alternate between Adele's and Saint-Beuve's voices, witnessing their struggles to be together from both sides. Adele, obviously, cannot leave her husband, who grows increasingly famous, particularly because of her children, while Saint-Beuve struggles to become the man he longs to be in Victor's ever-present shadow.

I had actually never heard of the affair between Saint-Beuve and Adele, but since reading this book have really come to realize that it was well known in its time and almost universally derided. Saint-Beuve in particular has borne the brunt of the ridicule, possibly because he was actually a hermaphrodite.

This makes for a very interesting book, but instead of making it seem at all vulgar or strange, Humphreys weaves it into his personality and makes his cross-dressing and his confusion sexually just another aspect of him, just like his desire to write is a part of him but does not define him. I thought this was an incredibly sensitive way to handle the subject and Humphreys does an extraordinary job, both with his personality and the way that Adele sees him and falls in love with him and is physically attracted to him despite things like cross-dressing which would immediately put off many straight women in the present.

Another aspect of the book that I really enjoyed, which I briefly alluded to above, is Saint-Beuve's struggle to define himself. He virtually lives in Victor's shadow - struggling to surpass Victor's writing skills, falling in love with his wife, and even at times coveting Victor's children. He tries so hard to set himself apart, but is all he really wants to be Victor. It's a real struggle with individuality.

Humphreys is a beautiful writer and her words set nineteenth-century Paris alight. The atmosphere, especially when the couple are together, is wonderful and immediately grants us a sense of place.

A lovely, tender but sad read, The Reinvention of Love is the perfect choice for those who prefer their literary fiction set in the past with a whole heap of doomed romance.
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on 19 January 2013
Good read. Enjoyed the historical aspect of the novel. A novel without heroes - a collection of flawed human beings.
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