This collection of Guy de Maupassant’s short fiction is composed of thirty tales translated from the French by Roger Colet. Several of the tales, particularly Boule de Suif, Two Friends, In the Spring, A Duel, The Devil, and The Horla (this last story often anthologized, and rightly so, as it happens), must, I think, be counted as little short of masterpieces of the form. Others play for the comic, including In the Woods, The Signal, Guillemot Rock, The Conservatory, and The Decoration. Strangely, there’s even something for lactation fetishists in Idyll (a sentence which I never thought I would write); this particular scene later finds an echo, of course, in the ending of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
Taken together, these stories very adroitly convey a time and a place, most of them being firmly rooted in France of the 1870s and 1880s. There is a beauty and a languor in Guy de Maupassant’s descriptions which makes these some of the most achingly gorgeous short tales I have ever read, beautifully translated by Colet. The closest comparison I can think to make is to some of the short stories of Émile Zola (those in The Attack on the Mill and Other Stories (Oxford University Press), for example), although Zola and Maupassant were very different writers. If this sounds at all intriguing, then I can’t urge you enough to find a copy of this edition (I’ve had mine for some twenty years, which shows just how quickly I get around to reading sometimes). Highly recommended. Five stars.
Originally reviewed 22 January 2013.
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