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. Considered to be Fontane’s greatest novel, Effi Briest is a humane, unsentimental portrait of a young woman torn between her duties as a wife and mother and the instincts of her heart.
I'm afraid that reading this immediately after Madame Bovary may have influenced my opinion on this book. It was impossible not to compare the two, and I definitely prefer Emma to Effi. While I felt sorry for Effi, pushed into marriage to a much older man when she was barely a child, I couldn't help but find her selfish and immature. Even her husband refers to her as a "spoilt young woman"! I'm sure that Effi had motivations for her actions but I never really felt like I understood them; Fontane didn't really get inside her head the way that Flaubert did with Emma. Although this novel offered a fascinating insight into late 19th century German aristocratic society I found it difficult to connect with the characters in comparison to other novels I've read from the period. I sympathised with their plight at being victims of the society in which they lived, but I never got to know them well enough to really care about them. There were, however, some wonderful descriptions of the scenery. I have the feeling that Fontane is better at describing locations than he is the emotions of his characters. 7/10