This novel is written in a very poetic and thoughtful way. I was drawn to the book as soon as I read the summary of the story. I have always loved historical fiction, but most of the novels I tend to read take place in England. This was a nice change, since it is set in France and actually features the famous French author, Victor Hugo! In fact, this tale is about Hugo’s wife having an affair on him—a situation which actually happened in real life.
The story really focuses on his spouse (Adèle) and her lover, Charles Sainte-Beuve. It starts out in Sainte-Beuve’s voice and we get to see the affair unfolding from his point of view. Then we read Adèle’s feelings about her infidelity and the unhappiness in her marriage, despite having four wonderful children. We learn how the lovers accept each other’s personal tragedies and why their relationship lasts as long as it does (including why the affair is beneficial to the both of them). There is such a sadness that cannot be expressed between them, concerning the impossibility of sharing a life together.
We are also painted a picture of the type of person Victor Hugo was and we are even given a glimpse of his children’s downfalls and tragedies. As a reader, we feel sympathy for Charles and Adèle, while admiring Hugo’s talent but questioning his delusional reasoning. I think perhaps what strikes me the most about this tale is that all the events in the book are facts—the way these moments are presented is fictional, but very believable.
What did you think about how this story is delivered? Did you find yourself asking whether Adèle had a good reason to stray from her husband? Or are you pro-Hugo?
If you enjoyed this title by Helen Humphreys, we have other books by her that you may be interested in reading:
Coventry (F H9272c)
The Frozen Thames (F H9272f)
Wild Dogs (F H9272w)
The Lost Garden (F H9272Lo)
Afterimage (F H9272a)
Leaving Earth (F H9272L)
To read reviews on The Reinvention of Love please click on the links below. Warning: If you have not read the book yet and you want to have a few surprises, the following reviews give away these secrets, so read at your discretion.
From The National Post:
From The Winnipeg Review:
For information about Helen Humphreys, click below:
I could not find any questions for this book, nor a reader’s guide. Once again, I need to rely on my own memory to create some queries that hopefully will encourage people’s thoughts on the story. I think this novel had many things to contemplate and I am very surprised that nothing was made for book clubs. Please see my questions below to start the group discussion.
1-How different do you think the story would have felt if it was written in third person, or had Victor Hugo’s point of view as well?
2-What would have happened if Charles never told Victor Hugo that he was sleeping with his wife? Do you think Victor would have found out eventually?
3-Do you think Victor Hugo would not have taken on mistresses if he knew his wife was faithful to him?
4-What is your opinion about Victor bringing his whole family to live in exile? Why did they stay with him?
5-Did Adèle really love Charles for who he was as a person, or for what he represented in her life?
6-If it were not for her husband, Adèle and Charles would have never met. Do you think she would have sought out another man regardless?
7-What do you think the title means?
8-Would Charles have become as well known if it were not for his friendship with Victor Hugo?
9-What do you think about Dède’s misfortune and fate? Do you see an eerie similarity between her love life and her mother’s?
10-Was Charles blessed with his condition or cursed?
As I mentioned at the beginning, many things in the book are true to history. To cover all bases, I double checked to see if Victor’s daughter (Dède) really did move to Halifax, pretending to be married and becoming obsessed with a man to the point that she followed him wearing men’s clothing. This, in fact, was also true. The source to this answer was found from the Halifax Public Library website. To read about it, click here.
This book reminded me of …
I can’t say that it brings to mind any other novel for the moment. It is quite unique for me, with regards to the plot and setting. Maybe the part where Dède goes over to Halifax makes me think of The Sea Captain’s Wife by Beth Powning, but perhaps more so Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende.
Favorite quote from book:
I like Charles’ thoughts on getting older, when he says, “I used to think that age ripened us … But that is not what happens. We do not ripen like a peach. We grow hard in some places, soft in others. We are inflexible where we should yield, and we give way where we should hold fast.” (p. 230)
Most entertaining moment in the story:
Boy, was I smiling when Charles recalls one of the first times he is waiting to meet Adèle in the church. He is sitting in the pew dressed up in unexpected garments. (p. 41)
Next month’s title:
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern