Having read and loved Maupassant's Bel-Ami (1885) a while ago I was eager to read more of his novels so I jumped on Pierre and Jean (Pierre et Jean, 1888) when I found it in a charity shop and when I read it over the weekend I was not disappointed.
It's a very short work, a novel (my edition had 176 pages) with the air of a short story that tells the tale of Pierre and Jean Roland, two brothers who live with their father Gérôme and mother Louise in Le Havre in Normandy. We learn that Gérôme is a retired jeweller, Pierre has finally settled on the career of doctor, and Jean a solicitor: both brothers are very much taken by a young widow, Mme. Rosémilly. Their lives are then changed forever when an old family friend Léon Maréchal dies and leaves Jean a large sum of money.
The tension between the brothers slowly builds: understandably Pierre feels a little jealousy towards his brother, and when the people of the town start commenting about how odd it looks - the younger brother inheriting with the oldest being left out, Pierre grows more and more anxious and seemingly paranoid. He becomes obsessed with Maréchal and begins to question to what extent he really belongs to the Roland family until eventually they are torn apart.
It's a wonderfully tense psychological drama of a small family in a small town. 19th Century norms and values were explored before being turned on their head, and Maupassant writes with great insight and pathos on Pierre's crisis. I'd say in terms of enjoyment Bel-Ami has the edge, but that's not to say this isn't an outstanding novel. It also comes with an essay at the beginning on the concept of 'the novel' which was very interesting; something I'll return to at a later date in a separate post.