Honore de Balzac spent a good part of his life eluding his creditors. His house on the Rue Raynouard in Paris (which I visited in 1997) was designed to help screen out creditors and, when that failed, to allow the author to slip out the back entrance on Rue Bertin and make his getaway. One result of Balzac's perennial impecuniousness is the controlling role of money in his books. Even in this novel, ostensibly a study of politics within a French ministry during the reign of Charles X, the strings are pulled by two fascinatingly grim money-lenders named Gobseck and Gigonnet. The obvious choice for the ministry, a brilliant and dedicated politico named Rabourdin, is painted into a corner and sees his career destroyed by a legion of lesser men who conspire against him. Perhaps the most telling criticism that could be made of this otherwise excellent novel is that that Balzac spends the first 75% of THE BUREAUCRATS introducing approximately a hundred characters, their wives and relations. While it is difficult at times to keep track without a scorecard, Balzac's main theme of overextended goodness destroyed by well-connected, mealy-mouthed nothings runs like a river in flood through the pages of THE BUREAUCRATS. The book is worth reading if only for the magnificent irony of the ending, which I will not tell for fear of ruining the surprise. Hang in there for the finish, and don't get sidetracked by all the characters.
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