Top positive review
Balzac's operatic novel about a super villain
Reviewed in the United States on August 23, 2021
The cover will tell you this is a love story about an ex-prostitute and an ambitious poet in Paris, but it's really about the career of a villainous genius. Lucien, the social-climbing hero of Balzac's "Lost Illusions" is back, now with a new gorgeous mistress and a mysterious mentor, the Spanish priest Carlos Herrera. What begins as a "La Boheme" style romance turns into a cat-and-mouse game between spies, police inspectors, and master criminals. Balzac knows the ins and outs of Parisian high society and the underworld, and has some choice things to say about both. Most of it is tremendous fun, but there are moments of horrible tragedy, one of which was so vile it spoiled my enjoyment to a certain extent.
It helps if the reader has read "Pere Goriot" and "Lost Illusions" first, but the three books are completely different in tone. Knowing about Lucien, Herrera, and several other characters from the earlier two novels gives this depth, and makes Lucien more sympathetic than he is with "A Harlot High and Low" as your introduction to the character.