Sunday 12 May 2024

Book Review: Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (Classics)

Effi Briest
Theodor Fontane
Pushkin Press
3 September 2024 (1894)
368 pages
eBook - PDF
ARC via Edelweiss

Unworldly young Effi Briest is married off to Baron von Innstetten, an austere and ambitious civil servant twice her age, who has little time for his new wife. Isolated and bored, Effi finds comfort and distraction in a brief liaison with Major Crampas, a married man with a dangerous reputation. But years later, when Effi has almost forgotten her affair, the secret returns to haunt her - with fatal consequences. In taut, ironic prose Fontane depicts a world where sexuality and the will to enjoy life are stifled by vain pretenses of civilization, and the obligations of circumstance. Considered to be his greatest novel, this is a humane, unsentimental portrait of a young woman torn between her duties as a wife and mother and the instincts of her heart.


Effi Briest is the first book I have read by Theodor Fontane. On the whole I found it enjoyable. The prose was easy reading (especially compared to other works from the same period) and I was able to finish the story in two nights. I thought the delayed discovery of the infidelity worked well, particularly because we, as readers, were also only half sure what had happened until the big reveal. However, for me this book lacked the emotional impact of other similar works (such as Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary); it was less overtly emotional and more thoughtful. In fact, it was fascinating to reach the end with these thoughts and then read the afterword, which stated similar views. Nonetheless, I didn't dislike it, and it was interesting to read Fontane's work for the first time, making this novel a good access point for those new to his writing. In the end I am giving it 3.5 stars. I liked it, but it didn't absolutely thrill or captivate me.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. 

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