Bellefleur By Joyce Carol Oates

    The living and the dead. Braided together. Woven together. An immense tapestry taking in centuries.

    A little over 100 pages into this novel I stumbled across the above lines, and even though I had another 500+ pages to go, I instinctively sensed that I had discovered the key to this immense, sprawling narrative, a description of what Oates was attempting to accomplish with Bellefleur. Literally spanning centuries, seven different generations and involving dozens of distinct characters, this is the story of the Bellefleurs, a privileged and moneyed family of the type usually characterized as American aristocracy. But Oates intentionally shatters her story into countless little shards of narrative so that with each chapter—all which function as their own stand-alone vignettes or even short stories—the reader is pulled between vastly different times and characters, with no obvious correlation from one to the next. At first it's disorienting, but Oates does eventually create the vague impression that the entire thing is indeed operating by its own internal logic and intricately designed rhythms. Frankly, this is a novel to get lost in, and one must be willing to make that decision intentionally.

    Because it's literally impossible to keep things straight from one page to the next, sometimes even one paragraph to the next—there are many examples of two characters sharing the same name, and this family's history often seems to have a habit of operating on an endless loop. In this way I was reminded of Oates's own description of another novel that often came to mind while reading Bellefleur:

    Wuthering Heights... ambitiously diffuses its consciousness among several contrasting perspectives; its structure is not so complicated as it initially appears, but chronology is fractured, not linear, and certain of its most powerful images... require a second reading to be fully comprehended. What is mystery becomes irony what is opaque becomes translucent poetry. There are numerous flash-forwards, as well; and a mirroring of characters across generations.*

    Reading back over that description of Brontë's novel, it seems clear to me that this was exactly the modus operandi behind Oates's own work. And while Oates doesn't quite reach the same heights of feverish ecstasies of her model, she did manage to create countless characters and images and actions in Bellefleur that I won't soon forget.

    Which is not to say that I loved this novel unconditionally—several hundred pages in I knew which characters I didn't find very interesting and began to skim the chapters they appeared in, and I really did have to force myself to finish the last 100 pages or so (which is a shame, because it really does all lead up to an unexpected and incendiary conclusion).

    Basically I wanted a leisurely summer read—a voluptuous novel crammed with people and events, as Oates herself called it**—and that's exactly what I got. And for the most part, I enjoyed it thoroughly.


    * - Uncensored: Views and (Re)views
    ** - The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982 Bellefleur I am only a few chapters in, will check back later
    It took me a long time to read this book. It was nearly 700 pages long, and just not my cup of tea. The reason I picked this book up was because it was listed as a gothic novel. There were too many characters to keep up with. I never really got a good read on the main character in the novel and at two or three times I felt the urge to just stop reading this book and pick up another one instead. That is something I NEVER do. But, I forced myself to finish it and was really disappointed that I read this whole thing and it ended like it did. I know Joyce Carol Oates is a critically acclaimed author and I have read some of her other novels, but this one I just couldn't get into.
    I started reading my first Sookie Stackhouse novel last night, which is, I suppose more my speed, and I had to laugh when when I saw some characters with the last name of Bellefleur! Bellefleur I really enjoyed this epic by Joyce Carol Oates, the first of her Gothic Saga novels. If anyone was wondering, the books are not sequential and do not contain the same cast of characters (except if a historical figure pops up in more than one which I believe might be the case). They can be read in any order.
    Bellefleur tells the story of the Bellefleur family, a prominent and wealthy line who own a large amount of land in the Adirondacks as well as a large mansion. The novel jumps back and forth and tells the stories of six generations of this family, from its lunacy to its failures to its triumphs. This book has supernatural elements to it, but I would not call it a supernatural book. It's more surreal than supernatural, and these elements are very rarely the focus of one of the stories.
    The biggest strength of this book is the creation of a history. With six generations, myths and events happen and pass. Due to the non-linear nature of the tale, often an event will get alluded to before the story has been told in the narrative.
    I don't want to say that this book isn't a page turner because I do not want people to think that I was not excited to see what would happen next, or indeed what had happened before, but it is not a book that is filled with suspense. It's not a book that one would devour in one sitting (and I'm not sure many people could even be able to do that because of its incredible length). It's a leisurely read and one that I enjoyed from start to finish. Bellefleur I enjoyed this book tremendously. It's a Gothic tale and a family saga that may put one in mind of Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude: in both tales, reality must be suspended, time skips around, and the endings are similiar. However, Bellefleur is written in a completely different style, and its scope is larger. The characters are intensely real. It's a sensational book! Bellefleur A gothic family saga, complete with lunatic relatives, serial killers, mythological monsters, absurd occurences, strange distortions of place and time, and cats.

    This book was freaking huge. At first, I was like, Why am I doing this to myself? Then I started to pick up on some of the little discrepancies. What? Is that true? Could that be true? How could that possibly work? I fought it for a while, trying to make everything make sense.

    Then I realized that this was the American Gormenghast and just went with it.

    Recommended for people who enjoyed Gormenghast, readers of gothics, and readers who enjoy a story that is, at one moment, a sly joke, and the next, a tragedy. Bellefleur

    I found this novel, above all, to be exuberant, ambitious, bold, and extremely readable. JCO has wrung all the suggestion and menace she could from her sumptuous setting. Not familiar with the author's infinite body of work - I have only stumbled across a few short stories, liked them, and never sought out any of the novels before recently - I was genuinely surprised. The structure of the novel may be disorienting for some, and the elevated style is extremely old fashioned, and includes the extensive use of parenthetical statements, as well as a dangerous number of adverbs. But as a historical novel, and one intended for entertainment, it is very effective. Plus, these flaws are mere stylistic choices, and I am sure the author has mastered any number of styles, judging by the variety of genres and modes she has dipped into during her Methuselah-esque career.

    An artful storyteller, she quickly establishes the Gothic dimensions of her project, sets down roots in the territory of nightmare and the macabre, amplifies the atmosphere and aesthetic to be found in Hawthorne and Poe, and infuses the manor at the heart of the book with an astonishing level of detail, while managing to sustain a menacing tension throughout.

    It culminates into a sprawling, violent, exuberant masterpiece of sorts. She might have chosen to focus on fewer characters, to tell a seamless, chronological tale, but she deviates, streaks wildly through time and dramatic scenes, only to twist her storytelling into contortions of the odd and grotesque. Some pieces of the resultant mosaic are elegant in excess, reverence-inducing, heart-stopping, guttural, and others are irreverent, almost silly, charming and straightforward accounts of character pratfalls and baboonery.

    Dealing with 6 generations, all equally eccentric, of an impressively dysfunctional family, it is a chronicle, but not in the traditional sense. I knew I was in the hands of a gifted storyteller from the start, because I didn't care about the artful jumps through time, the skipping around, the seemingly random characters introduced and reintroduced at different stages. The whole thing was good, and of course, the pieces begin to fit together by and by. JCO is a literary giantess, and I will have to begin reading the rest of her oeuvre, over the inevitable decades it will take to do so, especially since she keeps adding on new, lengthy, breathless masterpieces year by year, as if she were writing them in her sleep. Someone, probably, will ghost-write her future novels via Ouija board. This is the first in a vast Gothic saga of historical monoliths, and a thrilling entry into her world. Any story including bears and haunting entities, malevolent cats and declining aristocracy is bound to be interesting. The characters must deal with acts of God, malingering psychic children, and worst of all, each other.

    The novel is also pervaded by Biblical language and Biblical fear, trembling, uncertainty, and shadows in human shape sleepwalking through immense hallways, closed off rooms, and across the eternally frozen lake. These landscapes and interiors are no less dark and foreboding than the corridors of their minds.

    Some sinister repeated refrains remind us of the fates of previous Bellefleurs echoing through the ages. With intellectual daring, the author explores the dark secrets, the bizarre aberrations, and the obscene lusts and fascinating horrors lurking in the well-to-do manor-dwellers' hearts. With an endless array of historical details, the interconnected web of stir-crazy, passionate humanity will stick with me. It's splendidly perverse in parts, particularly the supernatural deaths, which are morbid but somehow fitting

    The dark, chaotic, unfathomable pool of time, she mentions is of course, Lake Noir. The complex quilts woven by Mathilde symbolize the patchwork family and its incomprehensible disintegrations through time. Their family fortune does not make them immune to misfortune. The infidelity, the hatred, the pettiness, the irresponsible philandering! Those qualities propel them toward inevitably doomed ends.

    Occasionally excessive, frenzied, ornate, or melodramatic, but usually mesmeric, rhythmic, and harrowing, I can't recommend the book enough. Its great moments of unexpected horror intrude, entice, and punctuate the well-conceived tragedies. At the very least, you will witness a huge range of character emotions and viewpoints.

    My favorite chapter recounts Nightshade's solution to the Bellefleur rat infestation. It's an example of her humor in a dark, and provocative light. Vanity, dissolution, antisocial behavior, anxious, ignorant fear of outsiders, bloody vengeance, and any number of other distinctly human flaws present themselves throughout. For some of the 49 principles characters, their injuries define their behavior in unexpected ways. Wounds, both physical and psychological, contribute to their growth and descent.

    JCO reminds us of the riches to be found in literature. Her opulent output, her boldness, her bravado, all reinforce her fiction's ability to move us. I know my image of the author will evolve as I delve deep into her novels, stories, journals and that notorious biography. All in good time. Bellefleur BELLEFLEUR by Joyce Carol Oates is ranked as one of my most favorite novels of all time...I love this book! I savored this gothic tale cover to cover and didn't want it to end. It possesses a life of its own, the characters became ghosts that would haunt me after setting it aside after a short reading and I would look forward to picking it up again. After I finished it, I felt homesick in a peculiar way that no book has ever done to me before; it is very likely that I will revisit the pages of Bellefleur again. Each chapter is an opulent sliver of time that peers into the lives and thoughts of the residents of Bellefleur Manor, an American family of notorious distinction. Their history is rife with joys and sorrows deftly exposed by the astounding craft that is signature in JCO's prolific literary career. The mesmerizing shifts of time, like historical memories, travel from the heights of the imposing Mount Blanc, wind through the decadent rooms of Bellefleur Manor, and plunge into the depths of mysterious Lake Noir where disconcerting spirits dwell. The fanciful characters endear themselves because of their human vitality and cause despair because of their human flaws; they are very tangible and seductive in spite of the brief glimpses into their lives. This is not a book for the faint of heart for it isn't a serene walk in the walled garden of Bellefleur Manor. JCO reveals the grotesque that exists within the soul of the American dream, and with abrupt grace, she divulges the unforeseen twists of fate that arise with incredible violence that will leave you reeling with astonishment. It is a unique and contemplative tale, not to be consumed in a few sittings; however, the temptation of the eloquent prose begs to be gorged until the reader is sated. Open this book and open your mind, and give your imagination a workout. If you read this book with a rigid, black and white mind-set you will come away frustrated by it. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for something out of the ordinary to read. Bellefleur Novela gótica, saga familiar, realismo mágico, Bellefleur es una novela absolutamente fascinante, plagada de excéntricos e inolvidables personajes, una obra inmensa.
    A pesar de sus más de 900 páginas, si pienso en todo lo que me ha contado Oates aquí, en todo lo que he vivido con los Bellefleur, me parecen pocas. Tantas generaciones, tantas relaciones, tantas vidas e historias perfectamente diferenciadas...

    Me parece magistral cómo maneja el tiempo, cómo pasa de una generación a otra, incluso en el mismo párrafo, cómo los sitúa a todos en una época mítica, de leyenda. Una vez se construye la mansión es casi como si el tiempo se hubiese detenido. Bellefleur Oates is a modern master of the Gothic novel, and this sprawling, wondrous book really showcases her command of language and how she can push her prose right to the edge of satire while still keeping that Gothic intensity. My only minor complaint is that it's a bit long and meandering in parts, but in truth I really enjoyed it. To give you a flavor of the book, here's the magnificently over-the-top opening sentence:

    It was many years ago in that dark, chaotic, unfathomable pool of time before Germaine's birth (nearly twelve months before her birth), on a night in late September stirred by innumerable frenzied winds, like spirits contending with one another--now plaintively, now angrily, now with a subtle cellolike delicacy capable of making the flesh rise on one's arms and neck--a night so sulfurous, so restless, so swollen with inarticulate longing that Leah and Gideon Bellefleur in their enormous bed quarreled once again, brought to tears because their love was too ravenous to be contained by their mere mortal bodies; and their groping, careless, anguished words were like strips of raw silk rubbed violently together (for each was convinced that the other did not, could not, be equal to his love--Leah doubted that any man was capable of a love so profound it could lie silent, like a forest pond; Gideon doubted that any woman was capable of comprehending the nature of a man's passion, which might tear through him, rendering him broken and exhausted, as vulnerable as a small child): it was on this tumultuous rainlashed night that Mahalaleel came to Bellefleur Manor on the western shore of the great Lake Noir, where he was to stay for nearly five years. Bellefleur One of those long reads that most either seem to love or hate. I finished it this summer after picking it up in a yard-sale. I'd only read short stories by Oates before taking this one on.

    My advice to anyone planning on readng it is to abandon the thought of a linear structure as a novel and take it as delivered; a series of episodes or short stories as chapters of several generations of the Bellefleurs in their castle above Lake Noir. Forget about timeline, forget about historical perspective. There is love, betrayel, vengeance, madness, magic and mystery, a shapeshifter, a hermit, a murderer and a ghost or two. Yes it's long, but once you give yourself up to it, Bellefleur is pretty good company. Bellefleur


    From one of our most distingushed authors comes her most ambitious novel to date: an elaborate series of interlocking tales of six generations of the Bellefleur family. Bellefleur

    Read & Download Bellefleur