By Francis Steegmuller
This is a biography not just of an author but also of his book. Flaubert worked every day for almost six months on the first chapter of Madame Bovary and he hated it. He thought Emma Bovary was provincial and dull and only wrote about her in response to a challenge set by some friends to write about ordinary life. He was much happier writing his next novel, Salammbo, which was set in ancient Carthage and featured parades of elephants. This is the best biography of a novelist I have come across. It shows how writers are only good insofar as they fight their talent, how great work can be an accident, and how you never know, when you sit down, whether it will be bad or good but only if it will be well made.