Two books? Two books! TWO BOOKS IN ONE!!!
That's right ladies and gentlemen, André Maurois' 1928 novel Climates is two books in one! The story of love, marriage, and infidelity is told once in the story of Odile and Phillipe, then again in Phillipe's marriage to Isabelle. It's the same story twice. Except it's not. And oh is it painful the second time around.
Maurois has been compared to Tolstoy, and I certainly believe there are stylistic parallels. The slowly unraveling story of an unraveling marriage, Climates bears much of the psychological insight of Anna Karenina without nearly as many tangents. That said, Tolstoy surely would have found Maurois' novel vulgar with its frank (for the time) discussion of sex. And it's clear there is a little bit of Anna and, even more so, Natasha Rostova in the character of Odile.
Moving on from comparisons, Climates starts out fine. Odile and Phillipe are an interesting couple and the way their romance plays out feels genuine. The dynamics of their relationships, with one another and with others, are great. The plight of a desperate man, enamored with an impulsive, irresponsible young woman is felt on nearly every page.
The second half tries to tell the same story, this time between Phillipe and Isabelle. Maurois uses the same gorgeous prose to advance his story, but the story itself feels clunky here. Isabelle strikes me as a strong-willed woman, yet she is constantly at the mercy of Phillipe. His every wrong is somehow her fault. Perhaps she should've done more to foster his abuse of her—she could've at least thrown herself at his feet to beg forgiveness for his adultery... oh wait, she did that. This misogyny, though indicative of some sentiments of the time, make the second half of this novel painful. By this point, I don't care anymore for Phillipe. I don't even feel bad for Isabelle because she wants to be a doormat. And what is otherwise a gorgeously written, heartbreaking love story becomes a chore to get through (and an exercise in eye rolls).
Climates: it could've been so much more, but sometimes, less is more.