Flaubert's Parrot is a curious book, and I'm quite sure that this is a common response. One wonders if it can even be called a novel at all. It is replete with lists, odd observations, fictionalized biography and chronologies. It's metafiction, criticism, and fan fiction at it's best, but it's also confusing. Upon completion of the novel, you might just say "Now, what am I supposed to think about this?"
I read Madame Bovary for a book club about five years ago. I remember that we all sat around a crowded cafe table, laden with wine glasses and bad french bread, and talked about why Emma was the way she was. The conversation evolved into a larger discussion about romance, the models for romance, and Hollywood, which brought us right back to Emma and her delusions. This book really stayed with me after I read it.
I'm guessing it also stayed with Julian Barnes after he read it because his tour-de-force could only be written by someone obsessed. Barnes' main character, the obtuse, quiet Dr. Braitwaite is exactly like Dr. Bovary. Interestingly, Dr. Braithwaite's wife Ellen is also exactly like Emma, complete with the philandering habit. In a weird play of fate, the shunned, cuckolded Dr. Bovary is given the space to analyze the mind of his creator, the man who created a world where Dr. Bovary's wife was not content to sit at home and wait on him.
This is an interesting rumination on fiction, reality, and how one can inform, or even create, the other.